Fecal incontinence is a condition in which you are unable to control bowel movements. Here’s what you need to know.
Causes and Risk Factors
Many things can cause fecal incontinence, and may occur in combination. For example, nerve damage in the rectum or anal sphincter, which can occur during childbirth, may be a cause. Muscle damage in the anal sphincter, also possible during childbirth, may prevent you from being able to hold stool back. Diarrhea can also be a cause, as loose stool is more difficult to retain in the rectum. Other potential causes include aging, hemorrhoid surgery, rectal prolapse, and IBS.
Risk factors for fecal incontinence include being older than 65, being female, having late-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s, having a condition that causes nerve damage, and having a physical disability. If more than one of these apply to you, you have a heightened risk of developing the condition.
Symptoms of Fecal Incontinence
With fecal incontinence, you are unable to control bowel movements. In some cases, this may be temporary due to having diarrhea, while in other cases it may be a chronic condition. Urge incontinence is one type of the condition, in which you may feel the sudden urge to defecate and are unable to control your bowels. In another case, called passive incontinence, you may not feel the urge to pass stool and pass it unknowingly. Fecal incontinence can be accompanied by other symptoms like diarrhea, gas, constipation, and bloating.
Often times, people feel emotional distress as a result of having fecal incontinence. They are often reluctant to tell their doctor about the condition due to the social taboo around it. If you do experience fecal incontinence, please talk to your doctor- they can help you manage the condition.
Your doctor can diagnose fecal incontinence in several ways. They will start out by asking you about your symptoms and medical history, before performing a visual exam. Your doctor will likely visually examine your anus first. They can also perform a digital rectal exam, whereby they evaluate the strength and coordination of your sphincter muscles. They can also perform an anal manometry test to evaluate the function of your rectum. To visualize your sphincter and rectum, they can also perform other tests like a colonoscopy, an MRI, or anorectal ultrasonography.
Doctors treat fecal incontinence based on what is causing the condition in your case. If there is a particular food that is causing diarrhea and incontinence, they will help you work to identify and remove it from your diet. If you have diarrhea or constipation, your doctor may recommend increasing your fiber intake through your diet or through supplements. They may also recommend bowel training if muscle damage is at play; here, you will work to exercise and strengthen the affected muscles to help you better control bowel movements.
In some cases, you may need surgery. Doctors can perform a number of procedures to help repair muscle damage, nerve damage, and other underlying causes of incontinence.
Our experienced team at GHP has years of experience treating patients with various GI conditions including fecal incontinence. We can help establish the best plan of care for your situation. Contact any of our office locations to learn about the options we offer and schedule an appointment today.