Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements, resulting in the unexpected passage of stools. People with fecal incontinence often find it difficult to make it to the toilet in time. It is more common in the elderly and women, especially women who have given birth.
Fecal incontinence is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Common causes of fecal incontinence include diarrhea, constipation, muscle or nerve damage (associated with aging or giving birth), loss of elasticity in the rectum, hemorrhoids (swollen anal veins) and rectal prolapse (protrusion of the rectum through the anus).
When you present to the clinic with symptoms of fecal incontinence, your doctor reviews your medical history, diet and performs a thorough digital rectal exam (physical examination by inserting a gloved finger through the anus to detect abnormalities). Your doctor may order certain tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), proctography (X-ray video images taken while passing motion), colonoscopy (thin lighted tube inserted into the anus) and anal manometry (insertion of electrodes to detect damaged nerve).
Treatment depends upon the cause and severity of condition.
- Dietary changes: Adding fiber-rich foods and drinking plenty of water to relieve/prevent constipation or diarrhea
- Medications: To control symptoms of diarrhea and constipation
- Bowel training: Involves trying to have bowel movements at specific times, such as after eating. Over time, the body becomes used to a regular bowel movement pattern.
- Exercises: Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles that control the passage of stools
- Surgery: If other treatment options fail to work, surgery may be an option.