Fecal incontinence is the loss of control of bowel movements, which can lead to involuntary leakage of stool. It can range from occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control. Fecal incontinence can be embarrassing and socially isolating, and it can have a significant impact on quality of life.
Typical symptoms of fecal incontinence
- Leakage of stool, either solid or liquid
- A sudden urge to have a bowel movement that is difficult or impossible to control
- Soiling of underwear
- Feeling like you have to go to the bathroom all the time
- Pain or discomfort during bowel movements
- gas leaks
How does defecation work?
Defecation is the process of passing stool from the rectum through the anus and out of the body. It is controlled by a complex system of muscles and nerves in the rectum and anus. When the rectum is full of stool, it sends signals to the brain that it is time to have a bowel movement. The brain then sends signals to the muscles in the rectum and anus to relax, allowing the stool to pass out of the body.
What can cause fecal incontinence?
There are many different causes of fecal incontinence, including:
- Damage to the muscles or nerves in the rectum or anus, such as can happen after childbirth, surgery, or trauma
- Weak pelvic floor muscles, which can happen as a result of aging, pregnancy, or obesity
- Constipation, which can put pressure on the rectum and cause it to leak stool
- Diarrhea, which can make it difficult to control bowel movements
- Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
- Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease
- Medications, such as opioids or anticholinergics
- Alcohol abuse
- Certain medical conditions, such as stroke or spinal cord injury
How is fecal incontinence diagnosed?
A doctor will diagnose fecal incontinence by asking about your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical exam, including a digital rectal exam, to assess the strength of your pelvic floor muscles and the condition of your rectum and anus. Other tests that may be done include:
- A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to look for any underlying medical conditions
- A urodynamic study to measure the function of your bladder and bowels
- An anorectal manometry to measure the pressure in your rectum and anus
How is fecal incontinence treated?
The treatment for fecal incontinence will depend on the underlying cause. In some cases, lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly, may be enough to control the symptoms. Other treatments that may be helpful include:
- Medications, such as laxatives, stool softeners, or antispasmodics
- Biofeedback, which teaches you how to control the muscles in your rectum and anus
- Electrical stimulation, which uses mild electrical currents to stimulate the muscles in your rectum and anus
- Surgery, which may be an option for people with severe fecal incontinence
If you are experiencing fecal incontinence, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. Fecal incontinence is a treatable condition, and there are many different options available to help you regain control of your bowel movements.