Fecal incontinence (or bowel incontinence) is more common than you may think.
Unfortunately, due to the delicate nature of the conditions, it is a subject that is still not as openly talked about as it should be.
Fecal and bowel incontinence is more prevalent than many well-known diseases such as asthma or diabetes.
Common causes of fecal incontinence include diarrhea, constipation, and muscle or nerve damage. The muscle or nerve damage may be associated with aging or with giving birth.
Fecal incontinence may be accompanied by other bowel problems, such as:
- Gas and bloating
The good news is that accidental bowel leakage is usually not a serious medical problem. But the bad news is that it can seriously interfere with daily life. People with bowel incontinence may avoid social activities for fear of embarrassment.
Another type of fecal incontinence is called passive incontinence. When you have passive incontinence, leakage occurs without you knowing it. If you have passive incontinence, your body may not be able to sense when your rectum is full.
What are the Causes of Fecal Incontinence?
For many people, there is more than one cause of fecal incontinence. The most common causes can include:
Muscle damage. Injury to the rings of muscle at the end of the rectum (anal sphincter) may make it difficult to hold stool back correctly. This kind of damage can often occur during childbirth, especially if you have an episiotomy or forceps are used during delivery.
Nerve damage. Injury to the nerves that sense stool in the rectum or those that control the anal sphincter can lead to fecal incontinence. The nerve damage can be caused by childbirth, constant straining during bowel movements, spinal cord injury, or stroke. Some diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis, can also affect these nerves and cause damage.
Constipation. Chronic constipation may cause a dry, hard mass of stool (impacted stool) to form in the rectum and become too large to pass. The muscles of the rectum and intestines stretch and can eventually weaken. Chronic constipation may also cause nerve damage that leads to fecal incontinence.
Diarrhea. Solid stool is easier to retain in the rectum than loose stool, so the loose stools of diarrhea can often cause or worsen fecal incontinence. We typically see this after gall bladder surgery. We have seen success in patients trying Ox bile with meals for a quick fix.
Hemorrhoids. When the veins in your rectum swell, causing hemorrhoids, this keeps your anus from closing completely, which can allow stool to leak out.
Loss of storage in the rectum. Usually, the rectum stretches to accommodate stool. If your rectum is scarred or your rectal walls have stiffened from surgery, radiation treatment or inflammatory bowel disease, the rectum can’t stretch as much as it needs to, and excess stool can leak out.
Surgery. Surgery to treat enlarged veins in the rectum or anus (hemorrhoids), as well as more complex operations involving the rectum and anus, can cause muscle and nerve damage that leads to fecal incontinence.
Rectal prolapse. Fecal incontinence can be a result of this condition, in which the rectum drops down into the anus.
Rectocele. In women, fecal incontinence can occur if the rectum protrudes through the vagina.
Speak With Your Doctor
Fecal incontinence can be upsetting and embarrassing. Some people may feel ashamed and try to hide the problem. You may be afraid or embarrassed to talk about fecal incontinence with your doctor. Do not be at all. Doctor’s don’t give stool discussions a second thought. However, talking openly and honestly with your doctor is essential in diagnosing and treating your fecal incontinence.
There are many solutions to the problem that can help you feel better and overcome your issues with fecal and bowel incontinence.