Embarrassing medical condition fairly common among adults

Embarrassing medical condition fairly common among adults

Believe it or not, nearly 18 million people suffer from a condition called fecal incontinence. Helen P. had her first brush with it while attending a family party last October when she suddenly felt the uncontrollable need to rush to the restroom. She says she will never forget that day.

Over the next few months, Helen says the problem—the inability to control her bowel movements, continued and even worsened to the point where she was unable to leave her home.

She knew the problem could be serious but was reluctant to mention it to her physician.

“I went a couple of months before even telling my doctor because I was so embarrassed,” she says. “I just kept hoping it would slow down or go away on its own.”

Then, last December, her daughter saw how distressed Helen was and convinced her to get medical help.

According to Dr. Joaquin Estrada, colon and rectal surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, an millions of adults in the U.S. experience fecal incontinence.

“The condition is extremely common, but it’s just not talked about,” Dr. Estrada says. “It’s a life-limiting and isolating condition that you don’t have to live with.”

Dr. Estrada says the condition is caused by a weakening of the rectal muscles due to age, strain during childbirth or other bowel conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. Though it’s one of the most socially debilitating conditions seen in otherwise healthy individuals, he says fecal incontinence is very often treatable.

In fact, Dr. Estrada is one of the first physicians in Chicago to use InterStim Therapy for bowel control for his most-affected patients. The minimally invasive surgical technique uses mild electrical stimulation of the nerves in the rectum to help patients gain better control over their bowels. For the therapy, a small electrode is implanted which is connected by small wires to the rectal nerves. A wireless control is then used to activate and set the device to electrically charge and contract the bowel muscles.

“I’ve seen dramatic responses, much like Helen’s, to the simple procedure,” Dr. Estrada says. “I’ve had patients who were unable to leave home, unable to hold a job, unable to live their lives. Their lives have been changed by this.”

Dr. Estrada says nearly 50 percent of patients who receive the InterStim Therapy have their incontinence completely controlled. And 83 percent see a decrease by 50 percent or more per week in there episodes of incontinence.

The therapy is a two-step process. Helen said following her initial examination by Dr. Estrada, she had the implant placed. Two weeks later, following a test phase, she had the implant fully activated. And she hasn’t had an accident or need to rush to the restroom since.

She said she’s headed to Tennessee for a weeklong vacation and family reunion in the next few weeks.

“If I was still having the problems I was having, there’s no way I would be going,” she says. “I would never have been able to make it.”

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About the Author

Tim Nelson
Tim Nelson

Tim Nelson, health enews contributing editor, is public affairs manager at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. He has more than 20 years of communications and journalism experience, creating health care publications, initiating communications strategies and engaging in all areas of social media. Tim earned his degree in journalism from Marquette University. In his free time, he is a certified Laughter Yoga leader, a movie fanatic, an avid reader and spoiler of his dog, Indigo.

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