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Relief From Fecal Incontinence

A patient shares her remarkable story

For 17 years, Becky Brickner suffered with persistent diarrhea and fecal incontinence (the uncontrolled leakage of stool) before finding relief at Rush.

Brickner's problems started shortly after her mother passed away. She began having symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can include diarrhea and fecal incontinence. Thinking that stress and the loss of her mother were the culprits, she assumed she'd get better after a while — but she didn't. 

In fact, her problems got worse. After having a sphincterotomy (a procedure in which the sphincter muscle is cut to treat some anal and rectal conditions) at a hospital near her home, Brickner was unable to control her bowel movements.

Afraid of having an accident, Brickner ate a restricted diet and lost more than 30 pounds. "I knew that if I ate even half a meal, I'd be in the bathroom," she says.

Seeking help for fecal incontinence

Through the years, Brickner saw several doctors and tried a number of treatments. She took fiber supplements and medications, got injections and underwent physical therapy. But nothing helped. Believing there were no more options, Brickner was devastated and felt resigned to wearing adult diapers.

Then Brickner’s doctor referred her to Joanne Favuzza, DO, a colon and rectal surgeon at Rush. Favuzza recommended a sacral neuromodulation procedure that uses a device to stimulate the nerves that communicate with the colon, rectum, sphincter and pelvic floor. "Becky is a very active person, and fecal incontinence was debilitating for her," says Favuzza. "I felt that sacral neuromodulation could help her."

Brickner jumped at the opportunity to have the procedure and felt a renewed sense of hope.

A dramatic improvement

Favuzza performed the procedure in two stages. During the first stage (the test stage), Favuzza inserted a thin electrode into Brickner's upper buttock region to stimulate the nerves.

After Brickner experienced a significant improvement in her incontinence during the two weeks after the test stage, Favuzza performed the second stage of the procedure. During that stage, she implanted a permanent pacemaker-like device into Brickner’s upper buttock region. The device stimulates the nerves and helps improve symptoms.

Both procedures are minimally invasive. Patients can go home the same day and typically experience little pain and few complications.

Becky is a very active person, and fecal incontinence was debilitating for her. I felt that sacral neuromodulation could help her.

Back to life

For Brickner, the procedure was life-changing. About four weeks after the procedure, her symptoms were gone; she had complete control over her bowel movements. She finally had her life back.

"I can eat a meal without having to run to the bathroom," Brickner says. "It's been amazing."

Common causes of fecal incontinence

  • Vaginal trauma
  • Childbirth
  • Surgery
  • Underlying health conditions (e.g., IBS, diabetes or neurological conditions)

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