Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements, which results in stool (stool) leaking out of the rectum unexpectedly. Fecal incontinence is also known as bowel incontinence and ranges from an occasional stool leak when venting gas to a complete loss of bowel control.
Common causes of fecal incontinence are diarrhea, constipation, and muscle or nerve damage. Muscle or nerve damage can be associated with aging or childbirth.
Regardless of the cause, faecal incontinence can be bothersome. But don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor about this common problem. Treatments can improve fecal incontinence and your quality of life.
Fecal incontinence can occur transiently during an occasional episode of diarrhea, but in some people fecal incontinence is chronic or repeated. People with this condition may not be able to stop the urge to defecate, which occurs so suddenly that they cannot get to the bathroom in time. This is called urge incontinence.
Another type of fecal incontinence occurs in people who are unaware of the need to have a bowel movement. This is called passive incontinence.
Fecal incontinence can be accompanied by other bowel problems, such as:
Gas and bloating
For many people, there are multiple causes of bowel incontinence.
The causes can be:
Muscle damage. Damage to the muscle rings at the end of the rectum (anal sphincter) can make it difficult to hold the stool properly. This type of damage can occur during childbirth, especially if you have an episiotomy or if forceps are used during childbirth.
Nerve damage. Damage to the nerves that sense stool in the rectum or those that control the anal sphincter can lead to fecal incontinence. Nerve damage can be caused by childbirth, constant strain on bowel movements, spinal cord injury, or stroke. Certain diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis can also affect these nerves, causing damage that leads to fecal incontinence.
Constipation. Chronic constipation can cause a hard, dry mass of stool (including stool) to form in the rectum that becomes too large to pass through. The muscles of the rectum and intestines stretch and eventually weaken, allowing watery stools to move around the affected stool from above in the digestive tract and escape. Chronic constipation can also cause nerve damage that leads to fecal incontinence.
Diarrhea. Solid stools are easier to hold in the rectum than loose stools, so loose stools from diarrhea can cause or worsen faecal incontinence.
A number of factors can increase your risk of fecal incontinence, including:
Age. Although faecal incontinence can occur at any age, it is more common in adults over 65 years of age.
Be a woman. Faecal incontinence can be a complication of childbirth. Recent research has also shown that women taking hormone replacement therapy for menopause have a slightly increased risk of fecal incontinence.
Nerve damage. People with longstanding diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or back trauma from injury or surgery may be at risk for fecal incontinence as these conditions can damage the nerves that help control bowel movements.
Dementia. Faecal incontinence is common in Alzheimer’s disease and advanced dementia.
Depending on the cause, it may be possible to improve or prevent faecal incontinence. These actions can help:
Reduce constipation. Increase your exercise, eat more high-fiber foods, and drink plenty of fluids.
Control diarrhea. Treating or eliminating the cause of diarrhea, such as: A bowel infection, such as a bowel infection, can help prevent bowel incontinence.
Avoid stress. Eventually, strain during bowel movements can weaken the muscles of the anal sphincter or damage the nerves, which can lead to fecal incontinence.