About Fecal Incontinence

If you have fecal incontinence, you are not alone. Fecal incontinence and other bowel control problems are more common than you might think. Fecal incontinence affects as many as 1 in 10 people at some time in their lives1. But there are effective treatments. We have used our expertise to develop an innovative treatment for patients who have found that standard treatments for fecal incontinence do not work well for them.

Definition

Fecal incontinence and bowel control problems prevent you from controlling when and how often you go to the toilet. You may experience unexpected small or large leaks of stools, may fail to reach the toilet in time, or not feel the urge to go to the toilet. Some people experience a combination of these symptoms.

Causes

There are many possible causes of bowel control problems. In many cases, fecal incontinence is caused by damage to the nerves or muscles controlling your bowel movements. This damage may have been caused by surgery, pregnancy or injury. Other conditions and diseases may also lead to incontinence, such as constipation, diarrhoea, diabetes, inflammatory bowel syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. Some medications affect the way your bowels work. One of the most common causes of fecal incontinence in older and disabled people is constipation. If constipation is causing your bowel problems, there is more information available.

Symptoms

Symptoms of fecal incontinence can be mild or severe. They include:

  • Staining or soiling your underwear
  • Not being able to reach the toilet in time (you may or may not feel the urgency)
  • Complete lack of bowel control.

These may be combined with other symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Gas and bloating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • You might have bladder control problems in addition to fecal incontinence and some therapies can treat both problems at the same time

Risk Factors

Fecal incontinence can affect anyone and, although it occurs most often in the elderly, it is not a normal part of ageing. Pregnancy and childbirth, diabetes and neurological disorders can cause incontinence. In addition, people who suffer from constipation, who have had surgery to the anus or who have to be fed via a tube directly into their stomach may develop fecal incontinence.

Diagnosis

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and how they are affecting your day-to-day life. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms.

Reference

  1. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence: The management of faecal incontinence in adults www.bmj.com/content/334/7608/1370

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 19 Mar 2013

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