Fecal incontinence occurs when you are unable to control your bowel movements, thereby, causing feces to leak without your conscious effort. Fecal incontinence is also called bowel incontinence and can range from occasional stool leakage when you pass gas to more severe cases in which you completely lose your bowel control.
Common causes of fecal incontinence may include constipation, diarrhea or nerve or muscle damage. Muscle or nerve damage is typically associated with giving birth or aging.
Despite the cause, fecal incontinence is an embarrassing condition. However, it is important that you see your doctor for appropriate treatment.
Signs and symptoms
Most people have fecal incontinence occasionally during diarrhea. However, some people experience recurrent fecal incontinence because:
- They are not able to control the release of gas or feces, be it liquid or solid form
- Are not able to use the toilet all the time
For some adults and children, fecal incontinence is a minor problem only causing occasional soiling of underwear. However, the condition becomes an emergency problem if you lose complete bowel control.
Fecal incontinence may occur along with other bowel issues like:
- Bloating and gas
When to seek medical attention
See your doctor if you or your child have fecal incontinence. Usually new mothers and some adults may shy away from disclosing their problem to their doctors, however, treatment is available can relieve symptoms better upon early evaluation.
Medications for fecal incontinence depend on the cause and can include:
- Anti-diarrheal drugs for diarrhea
- Laxatives if constipation is the cause
- Medication that reduce spontaneous bowel movements
Other treatment options include:
- Dietary changes. Your diet can affect your stool consistency. Therefore, you may be advised by your doctor to drink plenty of fluids and consume foods rich in fiber, if constipation is the cause. If fecal incontinence occurs due to diarrhea, high fiber foods can be helpful in reducing the watery consistency of your stools
- Exercise. If fecal incontinence occurs as a result of muscle damage, you may be directed to follow an exercise program along with other therapies to restore your muscle strength. Such therapies and exercises aim at enhancing anal sphincter control so that you can improve your urge to defecate. Therapy includes biofeedback which involve simple exercise that enhance anal muscle strength, bowel training to establish a timing to use the toilet, such as after eating and sacral nerve stimulation, which involves implanting a device to stimulate nerves to strengthen bowel muscles. Sacral nerve stimulation is usually administered if other treatments are ineffective.
- Surgery. Surgery may be required if the underlying condition can only be treated by it. For example rectal prolapse or sphincter damage while giving birth, can only be rectified with surgery.