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Should I get an artificial bowel sphincter if I have fecal incontinence?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine

An artificial bowel sphincter is the only surgical option for fecal incontinence available in the United States for patients whose severe sphincter injury is beyond repair, or does not respond to other surgery. This procedure was approved by the FDA in 2001. It is best performed in younger, healthier patients. The doctor inserts an artificial device that circles the anal sphincter. It keeps the anus closed until the patient squeezes a control pump to open it. The opening, in turn, allows a bowel movement to pass. Afterward, the cuff gradually closes.

For a male patient, the control pump is implanted in the scrotum. For a female patient, it is inserted in the labium. In follow-up studies, the implantation of an artificial sphincter cured fecal incontinence, and significantly improved quality of life, in most patients. But some patients required repeat surgery or had complications, such as infection; these patients had to have the device removed.

The surgery is not recommended unless you have the manual dexterity to work the pump. Also, once the device is implanted, you will not be able to deliver a baby vaginally or engage in anal intercourse, either of which could damage the cuff.

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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.