Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS)

Patients suffering from fecal incontinence have access to some of the most advanced treatments at UMass Memorial Medical Center, including Sacral Nerve Stimulation.

UMass Memorial is one of just a few medical centers in the country offering Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS) for fecal incontinence, a potentially embarrassing and sometimes socially isolating condition in which the sphincter muscle doesn’t work properly, leading to involuntary or unexpected loss of bowel control.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

Also called bowel incontinence, fecal incontinence can occur because of:

  • Childbirth
  • Radiation treatment of the pelvis
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage) related to diabetes or other chronic conditions
  • Trauma, including prior complicated anorectal surgery.

Sacral Nerve Stimulation Surgery is FDA Approved for Fecal Incontinence

SNS offers new hope to patients for whom medication, diet management and exercise haven’t helped to prevent bowel accidents.

SNS is a widely practiced therapy for urinary incontinence and was recently approved by the FDA for fecal incontinence. It has been used successfully in Europe for many years to treat both urinary and fecal incontinence.

Advantages of Sacral Nerve Stimulation Surgery

SNS is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide relief from fecal incontinence for many patients. Its benefits include:

  • Better control of bowel function
  • Smaller incisions, less pain
  • Less risk of infection and complications
  • Less bleeding
  • Faster recovery
  • Quicker return to normal activities

What Happens During Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS) Surgery?

With SNS, a small device, like a pacemaker, is implanted and sends mild electrical impulses to the sacral nerve, helping you better control your sphincter (bowel) muscles.

  • Through a small incision made while you are under local anesthesia, your colorectal surgeon implants a lead wire next to the sacral nerve near the base of your spine; the sacral nerve controls the sphincter muscles.
  • After your incision heals, the lead wire is connected to a temporary, battery-powered “pacemaker” that sends electrical impulses to the sacral nerve. You keep a diary of bowel activity for a two-week test phase.
  • After a successful test phase, the temporary pacemaker is disconnected and a permanent pacemaker is connected to the lead wire and implanted under your skin, near your upper buttock, while you are under local anesthesia.
  • The stimulator is fine-tuned to optimize its effect for you. Although many patients have reported complete continence with SNS, the goal is a 50% improvement in symptoms and episodes within a year of surgery.

 Learn more about the implantable sacral nerve stimulation system.