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Update on pediatric faecal incontinence.

PURPOSE: Faecal incontinence represents a devastating problem; it is often a barrier to social acceptance. It can affect many children including those with prior surgery (for anorectal malformations and Hirschsprung's disease) as well as those with spinal problems or injuries. Management involves distinguishing between true and pseudo-incontinence, and then determining the proper protocol of treatment.

METHODS: An extensive review of the authors' series of over 500 patients who presented with soiling was undertaken with the goal of determining helpful algorithms of treatment.

RESULTS: Treatment begins first with proper categorisation of patients. Pseudo-incontinence (encopresis) can be treated with disimpaction followed by laxative therapy. True incontinence requires an enema programme, with treatment tailored to either hypo or hyper-motile colons. Surgery for pseudo-incontinence, rarely required, takes the form of colonic resection but only for patients with a demonstrated ability to have voluntary bowel movements, albeit with enormous laxative requirements. Removal of the rectosigmoid in this situation can reduce or eliminate the need for laxatives. Surgery for true faecal incontinence involves changing the route for a successfully demonstrated enema programme to an antegrade, i.e., a Malone appendicectomy.

CONCLUSION: The keys to success in helping a fecally incontinent child are dedication and sensitivity on the part of the medical team. The basis of the bowel management programme is to clean the colon (either with medical treatment for patients with the potential for bowel control, or artificially with enemas for patients with true faecal incontinence), and then keep the colon quiet for 24 hours until the next treatment, thereby ensuring that the patient is clean and no longer soiling. The programme is an ongoing process of trial and error that responds to the individual patient and differs for each child. We carry out this programme over the course of one week with daily abdominal radiographs as we tailor the regimen. More than 95 % of the children who follow this programme are clean and dry. The clinician must embrace the philosophy that it is unacceptable to send a child with faecal incontinence to school in diapers when their classmates are already toilet trained. Proper treatment to prevent this is perhaps more important than any surgical procedure.

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