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A large percentage of the population will experience constipation at some point in their lifetime, it is a relatively common digestive issue which can resolve itself within a few days with over the counter medication or even home remedies.
Less is known about “functional anorectal disorders” – these problems are common and can cause significant suffering. Symptoms include difficulties in satisfactorily going to the toilet, leakage of mucus or faeces, or having trouble “holding on” to stool.
The disorders are complex and about 80 per cent of patients are female as traumatic childbirth is one of the most common causes. Patients may also develop prolapse or other pelvic complaints, and also often suffer from abdominal bloating and pain.
Other causes include pelvic surgery, endometriosis, heavy lifting, strenuous sport, psychological stress and previous abuse.
Many people suffer in silence and feel there is nothing that can be done, but there have been a number of advances made in the past few years in this field.
Colorectal surgeons Dr Chris Gillespie and Dr Tim Slack have set up a service at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane aiming to improve the quality of life for people suffering from these problems.
"In addition to difficulty opening the bowel, people with functional anorectal disorders can also struggle with faecal incontinence. While this is most commonly attributed to the elderly (impacting about 25 per cent of people over the age of 80), we still regularly see it in younger people," Dr Gillespie said.
“These problems can change a person’s entire life; we have seen patients who avoid eating entirely so they won’t have to open their bowel, people who have stopped work, not been able to have relationships and suffer other mental health conditions because of the problem.
“Unfortunately, this has not always been something that has been dealt with very well by the medical system in the past, so people often refrain from seeking help. Our team understand this is an incredibly personal and embarrassing condition to live with, and we treat all our patients with dignity, respect and compassion.
"We have set up a multidisciplinary team to treat these conditions with specialist pelvic floor physiotherapists, dietitians, and stomal therapists. We provide specialised pelvic floor testing, endoscopy and colonoscopy, and we also regularly consult with Mater gastroenterologists for their expertise.
"Our surgeons perform formal assessments of our patients and the team will work on a conservative therapy treatment plan for the patient; often surgery is performed as a last resort.
"We’re very proud of the service we provide, and we have had great results with our patients. One recently commented she was able to wear white pants for the first time in years, and another said he was able to confidently go out with his daughter for coffee after many yearsof faecal incontinence. It’s great to see people able to live better and fuller lives without having to suffer so much from these problems"
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