The current role of imaging techniques in faecal incontinence

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Abstract

Faecal incontinence is a common multifactorial disorder. Major causes of faecal incontinence are related to vaginal delivery and prior anorectal surgery. In addition to medical history and physical examination, several anorectal functional tests and imaging techniques can be used to assess the underlying pathophysiology and to guide treatment planning in faecal incontinent patients. Anorectal functional tests provide functional information, but the potential strength comes from combining test results. Imaging techniques, including defecography, endoanal sonography, and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, provide structural information about the anorectal region with a direct clinical impact. The major role of imaging techniques in faecal incontinence is visualising the structural and functional integrity of the anal sphincter complex. Both two-dimensional endoanal sonography and endoanal MR imaging are accurate tools to depict anal sphincter defects. The major advantage of endoanal MR imaging is the accurate demonstration of external anal sphincter atrophy. Recent studies have suggested that external phased array MR imaging and three-dimensional endoanal sonography are also valuable tools in the diagnostic work up of faecal incontinence. Decisions about the preferred technique will mainly be determined by availability and local expertise. This article demonstrates the current role of tests, predominantly imaging tests, in the diagnostic work up of faecal incontinence.

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