Fecal incontinence (or bowel incontinence) is the inability to control your bowel movements, causing stool to leak unexpectedly from the rectum at unwanted times. Normal continence requires the ability to sense the presence of stool in the rectum while being able to contain stool when a bowel movement is not warranted. Proper functioning of the rectum, anus, and nervous system all contribute to our ability to hold stool.
This condition can occur temporarily, but for some people, it is recurring. Incontinence can range from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control. It happens more often in women than men and is common among older people. Depending on the cause, treatment can include one or more of these approaches: dietary changes, bowel training, medications, or surgery.
For many people, there may be more than one cause of fecal incontinence. It is often accompanied by bowel symptoms such as frequent diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. These put a strain on the rectal muscles and can cause them to weaken over time. Other causes may include hemorrhoids, muscle or nerve damage, rectal prolapse, and any other condition that can prevent the rectum and anus from properly holding stool.
Depending on the underlying cause, it may be possible to prevent fecal incontinence. For instance, by increasing your exercise, eating more high-fiber foods, and drinking plenty of fluids you can reduce constipation – a common cause of fecal incontinence. This will be helpful to avoid straining during bowel movements which can weaken muscles or damage nerves and ultimately lead to fecal incontinence.
Fecal leakage should not be a regular occurrence in adults. People with chronic incontinence may experience frequent accidents and their symptoms can range from the inability to hold gas, leakage of stool during daily activities, and the inability to reach the toilet in time. If you are experiencing frequent symptoms of fecal incontinence, or if it causes you any emotional distress, see your doctor. Often times, people are reluctant to tell their doctors about their symptoms; however, the sooner you’re evaluated, the sooner you may find relief to your symptoms.
There are a number of tests available to help improve or restore bowel control. If you are experiencing constipation, your doctor may suggest that you follow a strict diet. If muscle damage is the cause of your fecal incontinence, your doctor may recommend bowel training exercise programs or other therapies to strengthen the muscles around the anus and in the pelvic floor. For those experiencing nerve damage, other surgical therapies like sacral nerve stimulation may be suggested.