Everyone has a pelvic floor: it is a hammock of muscles that lies in your pelvis, supporting your internal organs in that area (bowel, bladder, and – in women – the uterus) and keeping them in the correct place. In your pelvic floor are a few muscles that are called “sphincters”. There is an internal and external sphincter surrounding the anus. These anal sphincter muscles naturally contract around the rectum and keep the faecal matter inside your body until you relax the sphincters at a socially-acceptable time (generally when you’re using a toilet). As the urge to defecate increases, you can contract (or squeeze) your sphincters to gain more control. When you cannot control these sphincter muscles, bowel incontinence (also called accidental bowel leakage or faecal incontinence) may happen.
Surgery to implant an artificial sphincter involves placing an inflatable sphincter around the anus. A pump (placed inside the body in the labia or scrotum) is used to deflate the device, allowing faecal matter to pass through at the appropriate time. The device automatically refills after ten minutes, once again closing off the rectum.
Men or women with bowel incontinence following sphincter damage may be interested in this surgery. Sphincter muscle damage can occur as the result of episiotomy, childbirth, or treatment of prostate cancer.
There are relatively few treatment options available for bowel incontinence. When other treatments haven’t been successful, some individuals feel that the potential benefits of this surgery outweigh the risks.