Conference Coverage

Biofeedback corrects dyssynergic constipation in elderly



– Biofeedback for treatment of dyssynergic constipation is highly effective in the elderly, just as it is in younger patients, Samantha Spilman, MD, reported at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology.

Dr. Samantha Spilman, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of California, San Diego. Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Samantha Spilman

“I think the main point of this study is that older adults have a profound burden of constipation with dyssynergic defecation, and we propose that biofeedback be given strong consideration as first-line therapy for this population, in whom overall we’re trying to reduce medication use,” said Dr. Spilman, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of California, San Diego.

The prevalence of constipation in older patients is estimated to be up to 40%. Yet few prior studies have scrutinized how well older patients with constipation actually respond to biofeedback. It’s a legitimate question, since biofeedback training involves operant conditioning and requires learning new techniques. For this reason, she and her coinvestigators conducted a retrospective analysis of 58 patients over age 65 referred from the university’s gastrointestinal motility and physiology program to the biofeedback program for treatment of dyssynergic defection. The patients’ mean age was 74 years, with a 9.5-year history of constipation. The oldest patient was 88. Most of the subjects were high school graduates. Thirteen of the 58 carried a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that 70%-80% of younger adults with dyssynergic constipation experience marked improvement in response to biofeedback training, which typically utilizes an inflated rectal balloon to simulate retained stool. The key finding in Dr. Spilman’s study was that the elderly patients did comparably well in terms of both self-reported outcomes and objective high-resolution anorectal manometric parameters upon completing an average of three biofeedback sessions.

Mean global bowel satisfaction on a 1-10 scale nearly doubled from 2.77 at baseline to 5.01 with biofeedback. Moreover, 79% of seniors demonstrated resolution of their dyssynergia on high-resolution anorectal manometry performed with sensors in the rectum and anal canal. The proportion of patients who reported a feeling of incomplete evacuation after stooling – a sensation individuals with constipation find highly bothersome – improved from 95% to 24% with biofeedback.

The strongest response in terms of the defecation index was observed in older patients with type 2 dyssynergia, characterized by defective propulsion coupled with a paradoxical contraction of the sphincter muscles during defecation. Their defecation index score, derived by dividing intrarectal pressure by residual intra-anal pressure during simulated defection, showed a robust improvement from 0.307 at baseline to 0.793. Patients with types 1 and 3 dyssynergia showed lesser improvements on this objective measure.

Dr. Spilman noted as a study limitation that baseline cognitive status wasn’t formally assessed, so the investigators don’t know how many of the older patients had minimal cognitive impairment. However, baseline quality of life assessment via the Short Form-36 indicated that patients scored average or above for physical and social functioning as well as emotional well-being.

Dr. Spilman reported having no financial conflicts regarding her study, conducted free of commercial support.

SOURCE: Spilman S. ACG 2019. Abstract 45.

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