How does biofeedback training help treat fecal incontinence?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Biofeedback training can help fecal incontinence (unintended passage of stool) in two ways. First, it helps you strengthen and coordinate the action of your sphincter muscles (circular bands of muscle that surround and are capable of closing off the rectum). Second, it can improve your ability to sense the presence of stool in the rectum.

If the biofeedback session is aimed at strengthening your pelvic muscles, the practitioner will insert a slim sensor into your rectum. (In women, it is sometimes placed in the vagina, or an additional sensor may be used there.) Other electrodes will be placed on your abdomen to help record muscle contractions there. A computer screen provides feedback about the strength of your contractions and about whether you are using the correct muscles.

If the biofeedback training is aimed at improving your ability to sense stool in the rectum, the practitioner will use anorectal manometry equipment to vary the pressure in your rectum. This is intended to increase the sensitivity of the rectum, which, in turn, helps some patients to recognize the presence of stool before the situation becomes desperate. Whether biofeedback will help depends on the cause and severity of your incontinence and your ability to learn and practice the exercises. According to an international consensus panel, biofeedback helps about 75% of people with fecal incontinence, providing complete relief for about 50%. The improvements may only be modest. But biofeedback and exercise are so safe they are almost always recommended before more invasive treatments.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.