Bowel Disorders

Bowel disorders can be distressing, and some people can be reluctant to discuss them and seek help. Without treatment, bowel disorders can worsen and affect many aspects of daily life, including our jobs and relationships. But there is effective treatment, and at Providence Saint John’s our specialists provide sensitive, compassionate care tailored to your unique condition.

Bowel disorders involve the inability of the body to control bowel functions. This may be related to an underlying bowel disorder—such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease—or may be related to the muscles of the pelvic floor.  Women whose rectal muscles have been injured in childbirth are at higher rates of bowel problems, even years after childbearing is finished. 

Two primary bowel disorders are:

  • Fecal incontinence: This condition can occur when bowel movements are too soft, when there is damage to the anal sphincter, or when the nerves to the bowels do not function well. This may result in significant leakage of stool, or milder but still bothersome smudging.  
  • Constipation: Women who have difficulty emptying their bowels or find they need to strain may have difficulty relaxing pelvic muscles or have a portion of the rectum bulging into the vagina. 

Treatment

Treatment for bowel disorders will depend on the cause and severity of the disorder. Your comprehensive care team at Providence Saint John’s will work with you on a treatment plan that could include:

  • Dietary changes: Eating fiber can ease both diarrhea and constipation.
  • Drinking more fluids: Increasing fluids can ease constipation.
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy: This therapy is used to strengthen or relax the pelvic floor muscles. It can help improve bowel and bladder functions.
  • Medicines: Medicines for diarrhea can help mitigate fecal incontinence. Constipation medicines can be used when fiber supplements are not enough to help regulate bowel movements.
  • Anal bulking: This procedure is done to address fecal incontinence. A bulking agent is injected into the anal canal to narrow it and improve control of the sphincter.

Surgery

Surgeons at Providence Saint John's specialize procedures to maximize your quality of life and allow you to recover in the shortest time possible.

There are two types of surgery that are commonly performed to address fecal incontinence:

  • Anal muscle surgery (spincteroplasty): This procedure is done to repair anal muscles and halt fecal incontinence.

  • Sacral Neuromodulation: Often called a “pacemaker for the bladder and bowels,” the InterStim device treats urinary and fecal incontinence. After placement of a thin wire, the therapy is trialed for 2 weeks to see if it is successful.  If a patient has at least a 50% improvement in her symptoms, a small battery is placed under the skin, and the patient may adjust the stimulation herself using a remote control.

If surgery is right for you, the specialists at Providence Saint John’s will work with you to choose the best option.