Fecal incontinence is the loss of control over the bowels. Some people may have uncontrolled release of just gas and liquid stool. Others have no control over the release of solid waste.
Women are more likely to suffer from this condition than men. Many cases are a result of an injury to the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support pelvic organs. Injury can happen through complications from childbirth
. Other causes include:
The rectum falls through the anal opening.
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Risk factors include:
- Increased age
Diseases of the nervous system such as
Damage to the spinal cord such ascauda equina syndrome
Other risk factors thought to contribute to fecal incontinence include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight
The main symptom is the inability to control bowel movements, which leads to leakage of solid or liquid stool.
Call your doctor if you have fecal incontinence. Your doctor can help find the underlying cause.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may send you to a specialist, such as a:
- Colorectal surgeon
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
- Endoanal ultrasound
- Proctosigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
The pressure of your anal canal may need to be checked. This can be done with anorectal manometry.
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include:
Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. You may be referred to a nutritionist for diet ideas. Examples of dietary changes include:
- Eating smaller meals more frequently
Avoiding foods that may trigger
diarrhea such as spicy foods or foods with caffeine
and drinking more fluids—if incontinence is due to constipation
A bowel movement schedule can also train your bowels. For example, you can pick several times throughout the day to try to go to the bathroom such as after meals.
Learn how to do
Kegel exercises. These exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Surgical procedures may be used to treat this condition when other treatments have failed. Examples include:
- Surgical repair of the anal sphincter
- Inserting an artificial bowel sphincter that you can open and close as needed
- Colostomy for severe cases—disconnects the colon and brings the end through an opening in the abdomen
To help reduce your chance of getting fecal incontinence, take the following steps:
Prevent constipation by eating a
and drinking plenty of fluids.
- Pay attention to your diet and avoid foods that trigger diarrhea.
- Try to maintain a regular bowel movement schedule.
- Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble with diarrhea or constipation.
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http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea/. Updated November 27, 2013. Accessed December 16, 2013.
Fecal incontinence: treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/fecal-incontinence/treatment.html. Updated January 2011. Accessed December 16, 2013.
Garg, P, Song J, Bhatia A, Kalia H, Menon G. The efficacy of anal fistula plug in fistula-in-ano: a systematic review.
Colorectal Diseases. 2010;12:965-970.
Landefeld CS, Bowers BJ, Feld AD, et al. National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: prevention of fecal and urinary incontinence in adults.
Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:449-458.
Rectal prolapse. American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons website. Available at:
. Updated October 2012. Accessed December 16, 2013.
12/4/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Deutekom M, Dobben A. Plugs for containing fecal incontinence.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Peter Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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