Some instances of bowel incontinence are temporary. Others are related to ongoing medical issues. Both can cause embarrassment. Luckily, treatments are available to stop bowel incontinence and improve your quality of life.

What is bowel incontinence?

Bowel incontinence, also sometimes referred to as fecal incontinence, refers to an inability to control bowel movements. With bowel incontinence, fecal matter unexpectedly leaks from the rectum. Some cases are mild and involve an occasional small leakage while passing gas. Other cases may involve a complete loss of the ability to control the bowels.

Causes of bowel incontinence

Common causes of bowel incontinence include temporary conditions like constipation or diarrhea and chronic conditions such as nerve or muscle damage. This nerve or muscle damage may be caused by aging or trauma that is a result of giving birth.

In some cases, scarring or stiffening that is a result of surgery can reduce the storage capacity of the rectum. When this happens, the rectum can't stretch enough to accommodate stool, and leakage can result.

If the rectum drops into the anus, a condition known as rectal prolapse, incontinence can result. In women, a condition called rectocele can cause the rectum to protrude through the vagina.

Symptoms of bowel incontinence

Most people who experience bowel incontinence experience it only briefly as part of a bout of diarrhea or constipation.

In other cases, bowel incontinence becomes chronic. It may be felt as an irresistible urge to defecate that comes on suddenly. This type of bowel incontinence is called urge incontinence. People may also become unaware of the need to pass stool, which is known as passive incontinence.

In some cases, bowel incontinence is accompanied by emotional distress, which can manifest as frustration, depression, anxiety, and embarrassment. People who experience bowel incontinence may also develop persistent skin irritation around the anus. This can lead to pain, itching, and sores.

Diagnosing Bowel Incontinence

If you are experiencing fecal incontinence, your doctor will perform an examination and a series of tests to find the cause of your incontinence. These can include ultrasound, a balloon expulsion test, and X-ray imaging.

Bowel incontinence treatment

In some cases, bowel incontinence can be treated with medication that includes bulk laxatives, anti-diarrheal medications or injectable stool bulking agents. Dietary changes may be ordered to see how they affect the consistency of your stools.

When muscle damage is the cause, your doctor may recommend special exercises and therapies that can help restore strength in the area.

When other options have been found ineffective, surgery can help. There are a number of procedures that may be used to treat bowel incontinence:

  • sphincter repair, which involves restoring muscle tone to the anal sphincter.
  • sphincter replacement.
  • hemorrhoid or rectal prolapse treatment.
  • sphincteroplasty, which repairs damaged parts of the sphincter muscle.
  • colostomy, which involves diverting stool so that it travels through an opening in your abdomen instead. This will involve attaching a medical grade bag which must be emptied regularly. This is often considered a last resort after other treatments have been tried.

By diagnosing the cause of your bowel incontinence and treating underlying causes, the condition can be improved or eliminated. Have you been referred for a surgery related to bowel incontinence? Make an appointment for a consultation. We can discuss your options and arrive at the best treatment plan for you.