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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Sep 8;(9):CD001757. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001757.pub3.

Surgery for faecal incontinence in adults.

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Surgery, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Dept Surgery, Northern General Hospital, Herried Road, Sheffield S7, South Yorkshire, UK, S5 7AU.

Update in



Faecal incontinence is a debilitating problem with significant medical, social and economic implications. Treatment options include conservative, non-operative interventions (e.g. pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, drugs) and surgical procedures. A surgical procedure may be aimed at correcting an obvious mechanical defect, or augmenting a functionally deficient but structurally intact sphincter complex.


To assess the effects of surgical techniques for the treatment of faecal incontinence in adults who do not have rectal prolapse. Our aim was firstly to compare surgical management with non-surgical management and secondly, to compare the various surgical techniques.


Electronic searches of the Cochrane Incontinence Group Specialised Register (searched 26 November 2009), the Cochrane Colorectal Cancer Group Specialised Register (searched 26 November 2009), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2009) and EMBASE (1 January 1998 to 30 June 2009) were undertaken. The British Journal of Surgery (1 January 1995 to 30 June 2009) Colorectal Diseases (1 January 2000 to 30 June 2009) and the Diseases of the Colon and Rectum (1 January 1995 to 30 June 2009) were specifically handsearched. The proceedings of the UK Association of Coloproctology meeting held from 1999 to 2009 were perused. Reference lists of all relevant articles were searched for further trials.


All randomised or quasi-randomised trials of surgery in the management of adult faecal incontinence (other than surgery for rectal prolapse).


Three reviewers independently selected studies from the literature, assessed the methodological quality of eligible trials and extracted data. The three primary outcome measures were: change or deterioration in incontinence, failure to achieve full continence, and the presence of faecal urgency.


Thirteen trials were included with a total sample size of 440 participants. Two trials included a group managed non-surgically. One trial compared levator with anal plug electrostimulation and one compared artificial bowel sphincter with best supportive care. The artificial bowel sphincter resulted in significant improvements in at least one primary outcome but numbers were small. The other trial showed no difference in primary outcome measures.Eleven trials compared different surgical interventions. These included anterior levatorplasty versus postanal repair, anterior levatorplasty versus total pelvic floor repair, total pelvic floor versus postanal repair, end to end versus overlap sphincter repair, overlap repair with or without a defunctioning stoma or with or without biofeedback, injection of silicone, hydrogel, physiological saline, carbon beads or collagen bulking agents, total pelvic floor repair versus repair plus internal sphincter plication and neosphincter formation versus total pelvic floor repair. Sacral nerve stimulation and injectables are also considered in separate Cochrane reviews. Only one comparison had more than one trial (total pelvic floor versus postanal repair, 44 participants) and no trial showed any difference in primary outcome measures.


Despite more studies being included in this update, the continued small number of relevant trials identified together with their small sample sizes and other methodological weaknesses continue to limit the usefulness of this review for guiding practice. It was impossible to identify or refute clinically important differences between the alternative surgical procedures. Larger rigorous trials are still needed. However, it should be recognised that the optimal treatment regime may be a complex combination of various surgical and non-surgical therapies.

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