Doctor first in New England to use device to treat bowel incontinence

Treating patients with bowel incontinence was, for a long time, a disheartening experience, said Dr. John Aversa, a colorectal surgeon with the Ciardiello, Bonadies and Aversa Surgery Group. About 18 million Americans suffer from bowel incontinence, a sometimes debilitating — and often embarrassing — condition that prevents the body from controlling bowel movements.

Aversa said, for a long time, there was little he could do for patients with this condition, other than offer medication and physical therapy. “People can get some relief, but not enough,” said Aversa, whose practice has offices in Derby, Hamden and Guilford. “I’ve been taking care of these patients so long, it almost seems hopeless.”

However, he’s hopeful about a new treatment, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in April 2011 about a 12-month, 120-patient study. InterStim Therapy for Bowel Control, produced by the company Medtronic, is a stimulator device the size of a stopwatch that emits a continuous, mild electrical pulse. The pulse helps regulate the muscles that control continence. The device was originally approved in 1997 for urinary incontinence. The United States now joins Europe, Canada and Australia in approving it for bowel control as well.

More than 85,000 people have received the therapy worldwide, but Aversa is the first doctor in New England to use it to treat bowel incontinence. He’s used it on two patients — a 67-year-old man and an 86-year-old woman — who have had good early results. One experienced complete resolution of their incontinence and the other having almost perfect continence. The procedures were performed at Griffin Hospital in Derby.

The new treatment isn’t for everyone. For instance, safety and effectiveness hasn’t been established for patients under the age of 18; or for patients with progressive, systemic neurological diseases. Also, there can be complications, such as pain at the implant site, infection, lead (thin wire) movement, technical or device problems, undesirable changes in urinary or bowel function, and uncomfortable stimulation

However, Aversa said, the procedure could be hugely beneficial for fit, active people who haven’t found relief from any other treatments. For these patients, he said, “it’s a major breakthrough.”

For more information, call Aversa’s office at 203-516-5493.

Amanda Cuda