Fecal incontinence is the loss of control over the bowels. Some people may have uncontrolled release of just gas and liquid stool. Others have no control over the release of solid waste.
Women are more likely to suffer from this condition than men. Many cases are a result of an injury to the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support pelvic organs. Injury can happen through complications from childbirth . Other causes include:
- Rectal prolapse
- A condition that is present from birth
- Trauma or injury to anal sphincter or its nerves—the healthy sphincter opens and closes to control the release of fecal material
- Scarring of the rectum from radiation therapy or surgery
Risk factors include:
The main symptom is the inability to control bowel movements, which leads to leakage of solid or liquid stool.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you have fecal incontinence. Your doctor can help find the underlying cause.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may send you to a specialist, such as a:
- Colorectal surgeon
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
- Endoanal ultrasound
- Proctosigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
The pressure of your anal canal may need to be checked. This can be done with anorectal manometry.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include:
Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. You may be referred to a nutritionist for diet ideas. Examples of dietary changes include:
A bowel movement schedule can also train your bowels. For example, you can pick several times throughout the day to try to go to the bathroom such as after meals.
Learn how to do Kegel exercises . These exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Surgical procedures may be used to treat this condition when other treatments have failed. Examples include:
- Surgical repair of the anal sphincter
- Inserting an artificial bowel sphincter that you can open and close as needed
- Colostomy for severe cases—disconnects the colon and brings the end through an opening in the abdomen
To help reduce your chance of getting fecal incontinence, take the following steps:
- Prevent constipation by eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Pay attention to your diet and avoid foods that trigger diarrhea.
- Try to maintain a regular bowel movement schedule.
- Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble with diarrhea or constipation.
- Reviewer: Peter Lucas, MD
- Review Date: 12/2013 -
- Update Date: 12/16/2013 -