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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(3):CD002116.

Drug treatment for faecal incontinence in adults.

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  • 1Department of General Surgery, Watford General Hospital, Vicarage Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, UK, WD18 0HB.



Faecal incontinence is a common symptom which causes significant distress and reduction in quality of life. Available treatment options for faecal incontinence include conservative treatments (biofeedback, pelvic floor muscle training, dietary manipulation or drug therapy) or surgical treatments (e.g. sphincter repair, post anal repair, neosphincter). Drug treatment is often given either alone or in combination with other treatment modalities.


To assess the effects of drug therapy for the treatment of faecal incontinence. In particular, to assess the effects of individual drugs relative to placebo or other drugs, and to compare drug therapy with other treatment modalities.


We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group trials register (January 2003) and the reference lists of relevant articles. Date of the most recent search: January 2003.


All randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials of the use of pharmacological agents for the treatment of faecal incontinence in adults.


Working independently, reviewers selected studies from the literature, assessed the methodological quality of each trial, and extracted data.


Eleven trials were identified for inclusion in this review. Nine trials were of cross-over design. Seven trials included only people with faecal incontinence related to liquid stool (either chronic diarrhoea or following ileoanal pouch surgery). Three trials (total 58 participants) compared topical phenylephrine gel with placebo. Two trials (56 participants) compared loperamide with placebo. One trial (11 participants) compared loperamide oxide with placebo. One trial (15 participants) compared diphenoxylate plus atropine with placebo. One trial (17 participants) compared sodium valproate with placebo. One trial (30 participants) compared loperamide with codeine with diphenoxylate plus atropine. Two further trials (total 265 participants) assessed the use of lactulose in elderly people.No studies comparing drugs with other treatment modalities were identified. There was limited evidence that antidiarrhoeal drugs and drugs which enhance anal sphincter tone may reduce faecal incontinence in patients with liquid stools. However, the trials were small and of short duration.


The small number of trials identified for this review assessed several different drugs in a variety of patient populations. The focus of most of the included trials was on the treatment of diarrhoea, rather than faecal incontinence. There is little evidence to guide clinicians in the selection of drug therapies for faecal incontinence. Larger, well-designed controlled trials, which include clinically important outcome measures, are required.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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