Faecal incontinence (FI) and constipation are both socially-embarrassing and physically-disabling conditions that impair quality of life. For both, surgery may be required in a minority of people when more conservative measures fail. However, the invasiveness and irreversible nature of direct surgery on bowel and sphincter muscles, poor long-term outcomes and well-established compIications makes such procedures unappealing for these benign conditions. A less-invasive surgical option to treat faecal incontinence and constipation is direct, low-voltage stimulation of the sacral nerve roots, termed sacral nerve stimulation (SNS). SNS has become the first line surgical treatment for FI in people failing conservative therapies. Its value in the treatment of constipation is less clear.
To assess the effects of sacral nerve stimulation using implanted electrodes for the treatment of faecal incontinence and constipation in adults.
We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group Specialised Register, which contains trials identified from the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process, ClinicalTrials.gov, the World Health Organization (WHO) ICTRP and handsearched journals and conference proceedings (searched 5 February 2015), EMBASE (1 January 1947 to 2015 Week 5), and the reference lists of retrieved relevant articles.
All randomised or quasi-randomised trials assessing the effects of SNS for faecal incontinence or constipation in adults.
Two review authors independently screened the search results, assessed the methodological quality of the included trials, and undertook data extraction.
Six crossover trials and two parallel group trials were included.Six trials assessed the effects of SNS for FI. In the parallel group trial conducted by Tjandra, 53 participants with severe FI in the SNS group experienced fewer episodes of faecal incontinence compared to the control group who received optimal medical therapy (mean difference (MD) -5.20, 95% confidence interval (CI) -9.15 to -1.25 at 3 months; MD -6.30, 95% CI -10.34 to -2.26 at 12 months). Adverse events were reported in a proportion of participants: pain at implant site (6%), seroma (2%) and excessive tingling in the vaginal region (9%).In the parallel group trial carried out by Thin, 15 participants with FI in the SNS group experienced fewer episodes of FI compared with the percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) group (MD -3.00, 95% CI -6.61 to 0.61 at 3 months; MD -3.20, 95% CI -7.14 to 0.74 at 12 months). Adverse events were reported in three participants: mild ipsilateral leg pain during temporary testing (n = 1); and stimulator-site pain following insertion of neurostimulator (n = 2).In the crossover trial by Leroi 7 of 34 recruited participants were excluded from the crossover due mainly to complications or immediate device failure. Twenty-four of the remaining 27 participants while still blinded chose the period of stimulation they had preferred. Outcomes were reported separately for 19 participants who preferred the 'on' and five who preferred the 'off' period. For the group of 19, the median (range) episodes of faecal incontinence per week fell from 1.7 (0 to 9) during the 'off' period to 0.7 (0 to 5) during the 'on' period; for the group of five, however, the median (range) rose from 1.7 (0 to 11) during the 'off' period compared with 3.7 (0 to 11) during the 'on' period. Four of 27 participants experienced an adverse event resulting in removal of the stimulator.In the crossover trial by Sørensen and colleagues, participants did not experience any FI episodes in either the one-week 'on' or 'off' periods.In the crossover trial by Vaizey, participants reported an average of six, and one, episodes of faecal incontinence per week during the 'off' and 'on' periods respectively in two participants with FI. Neither study reported adverse events.In the crossover trial by Kahlke, 14 participants with FI experienced significantly lower episodes of FI per week during the stimulator 'on' (1 (SD, 1.7)) compared with the 'off' period (8.4 (SD, 8.7)). Adverse events reported include: haematoma formation (n = 3); misplacement of tined lead (1); and pain at stimulator site (n = 1).Two trials assessed SNS for constipation. In the Kenefick trial, the two participants experienced an average of two bowel movements per week during the 'off' crossover period, compared with five during the 'on' period. Abdominal pain and bloating occurred 79% of the time during the 'off' period compared with 33% during the 'on' period. No adverse events occurred. In contrast, in the trial by Dinning with 59 participants, SNS did not improve frequency of bowel movements and 73 adverse events were reported, which included pain at site of the implanted pulse generator (32), wound infection (12), and urological (17) events.
The limited evidence from the included trials suggests that SNS can improve continence in a proportion of patients with faecal incontinence. However, SNS did not improve symptoms in patients with constipation. In addition, adverse events occurred in some patients where these were reported. Rigorous high quality randomised trials are needed to allow the effects of SNS for these conditions to be assessed with more certainty.