When a person suffers from fecal incontinence, it means that they have difficulty controlling their bowel movements. This condition is also referred to as bowel incontinence and can vary in severity. Fecal incontinence ranges from the occasional or infrequent leakage of fecal matter out of the rectum (such as when passing gas) to a total inability to control the sphincter and rectum and having frequent leakage and a total loss of control over the process.
This is condition that is most commonly associated with the aging process and occurs in older adults or adults with the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. There are many other potential causes for fecal incontinence as well. Multiple sclerosis and diabetes can cause nerve damage that could result in fecal incontinence as well as other issues like strokes and various nervous system injuries or conditions.
Fecal incontinence is also slightly more of an issue for women than it is for men and can occur as a complication related to childbirth and associated muscle damage. Surgery to the anus or rectum may also result in fecal incontinence because of damage to the nerves or muscles. If a person has inflammatory bowel disease or other digestive and bowel related conditions or they have abused laxatives in the past, fecal incontinence can also occur.
Fecal incontinence is characterized by an inability to control bowel movements.
Symptoms can include occasional fecal leakage, an inability to control flatulence, frequently soiled clothing and bed linens, complaints of anal itching or irritation, sudden urges to defecate without warning, an inability to make it to the bathroom when the urge to defecate occurs, and skin infections or ulcers in the buttocks region.
Most people will experience fecal incontinence at some point in their life. Fecal incontinence has many causes, and often multiple causes are present in any one case of fecal incontinence. Diarrhea is a common cause of fecal incontinence, as it is more difficult to retain soft stool in the rectum than solid stool. Constipation can also contribute to fecal incontinence. With chronic constipation, impacted stool may occur. In this instance, the sphincter muscles will eventually relax, allowing looser stool from higher up in the colon to leak out. Nerve damage can also impact fecal incontinence, as an inability to sense stool in the rectum can cause incontinence. Nerve damage can be caused by chronic constipation, childbirth, and spinal injuries. Childbirth can also cause muscle damage to the sphincter, which is another contributing factor to fecal incontinence. Surgery to treat hemorrhoids or other conditions in the rectum or anus can contribute to fecal incontinence as well.
Fecal incontinence treatment depends on what is causing the issue.
However, commonly taking fiber supplements or eating a fiber-rich diet is recommended to firm up stool and reduce the frequency of diarrhea and bowel movements in general. Anti-diarrheal medications may also be prescribed if stool continues to be loose.
There are also surgical interventions for fecal incontinence if the condition is caused by problems with the muscles. Sometimes, if a physician believes that a person’s fecal incontinence is caused by problems with the sacral nerve, surgery can be performed to implant a device that electrically stimulates the nerve to increase bowel movement control.
Some simple home remedies can help prevent fecal incontinence, although in severe cases a doctor should be consulted. Fecal incontinence can often be prevented by tracking one’s diet, as this can alert someone to particular foods that trigger bouts of fecal incontinence. Changing your diet to avoid these foods can help. In addition, ensuring that enough fiber is consumed is important in preventing fecal incontinence. In general, 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day is recommended, although consuming an entire day’s fiber in one sitting can contribute to uncomfortable bloating and gas. Drinking adequate water is also important, as it has an impact on the stool’s consistency and can help prevent constipation. In general, a person should drink half their weight in ounces of water per day. Finally, Kegel exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor and can help to prevent fecal incontinence.