What is fecal incontinence?
Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements. Stool may leak from the rectum unexpectedly when passing gas or you may have a complete loss of bowel control. Fecal incontinence affects people of all ages and can be embarrassing. Many treatments are available that can improve or correct fecal incontinence.
What causes fecal incontinence?
Fecal incontinence may be caused by several factors including constipation, diarrhea, muscle and nerve damage. Fecal incontinence may also be due to injury to the nerves and muscles of the rectum and anus from giving birth. It may also be associated with weakened sphincter muscles due to aging.
What are the treatment options?
The type of treatment depends on the cause and the severity of fecal incontinence. Treatments may include dietary changes, medications, special exercises or surgery.
- Dietary changes: Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet to help improve your bowel movements. Foods that cause diarrhea and gas and worsen fecal incontinence include spicy, fatty and greasy foods, cured or smoked meat, carbonated beverages or dairy products (if you are lactose intolerant). Caffeine, sugar-free gum and diet soda can also act as a laxative. Keep a list of foods that seem to cause you problems and try to cut back on them to see if your incontinence improves.
- Bowel Training: Bowel training (biofeedback) helps people relearn how to control their bowel movements and may involve strengthening muscles or training the bowels to empty at a specific time of day. This is training is done at the Pelvic Floor Center.
- Medications: Depending on the cause of your fecal incontinence, your doctor may prescribe anti-diarrheals, stool softeners or bulk laxatives (Metamucil®, Citrucel®).
- Surgery: Surgery to repair the anal sphincter may be an option for people who have not responded to medications, dietary changes or bowel training. Artificial sphincter devices may also be recommended.
- Self Care: You can help avoid further discomfort by keeping the skin around your anus as clean and dry as possible. Gently wash the area with water after each bowel movement and dry thoroughly. Apply a moisture barrier cream to help keep your skin from having direct contact with stool (ask your doctor for recommendations). Wear cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing.
When to Seek Medical Advice
You should see your doctor if you develop fecal incontinence. A number of tests are available to help diagnose the cause of the problem and determine the right treatment.