Aim The long-term results of sphincteroplasty for faecal incontinence due to an anal sphincter lesion have been disappointing. Initially sacral nerve stimulation was used only in faecal incontinence of neurogenic origin but subsequently the indications have been extended to other conditions. The aim of this review was to evaluate sacral nerve stimulation for incontinence in the presence of a sphincter defect.
Method The MEDLINE, Embase and Cochrane Library databases for the period between 1995 and 2011 were searched for studies in English, with no limitations concerning the study size or the length of follow-up. The major endpoints were clinical efficacy, changes in anorectal manometry and quality of life.
Results Ten reports (119 patients) satisfied the inclusion criteria. The quality of the studies was low (nine were retrospective, one was prospective). All reported a lesion of the external anal and/or internal anal sphincter on endoanal ultrasound. A definitive implant was performed on 106 (89%) of the 119 patients who underwent a peripheral nerve evaluation test. The weighted average number of incontinent episodes per week decreased from 12.1 to 2.3, the weighted average Cleveland Clinic Score decreased from 16.5 to 3.8, and the ability to defer defaecation, when evaluated, increased significantly. The features at anorectal manometry did not change. The quality of life improved significantly in almost all studies.
Conclusion Sacral nerve stimulation could be a therapeutic option for faecal incontinence in patients with an anal sphincter lesion. However, the quality of the published studies is low. A randomized clinical trial comparing sacral nerve stimulation with other classical surgical procedures at long-term follow-up, although beset with difficulties, should be conducted.