Bowel Incontinence in Women

Bowel incontinence is a problem most women don’t want to talk about. We understand how embarrassing accidental bowel leakage can be — and we can help.

At Henry Ford, we provide a confidential, welcoming environment where you can comfortably discuss these issues with your doctor.

Our compassionate specialists take the time to accurately diagnose the cause of your bowel incontinence. Then we create a personalized a treatment plan to help you regain bowel control.

What is bowel or fecal incontinence?

Bowel incontinence (also called fecal incontinence) is most common in post-menopausal women. But the condition affects both men and women and can happen at any age.

People with this condition accidentally leak stool or gas. There are two types of bowel incontinence:

  • Urge bowel incontinence: Women with this condition experience a sudden need to have a bowel movement and may not get to the bathroom in time.
  • Passive bowel incontinence: Women with this condition accidentally leak stool without realizing it.

What causes bowel incontinence and accidental bowel leakage?

Although bowel incontinence in women does become more common with age, it is not a normal part of getting older. There are many factors that can increase your risk, including:

  • Chronic constipation: Frequently straining to have a bowel movement can stretch and weaken muscles in the rectum.
  • Chronic diarrhea: Loose, watery stool is easier to pass, so it’s more likely to result accidental bowel leakage.
  • Hemorrhoids: Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in your rectum. They can make it difficult for your anus to completely shut, leading to bowel leakage.
  • Nerve damage: There are nerves that help you sense when you need to have a bowel movement. Other nerves signal the anal sphincter (the muscle surrounding your anus) to relax so stools can pass. Damage to any of these nerves (from childbirth or a medical condition) can lead to bowel incontinence.

Bowel incontinence diagnosis

At Henry Ford, our experts use the most advanced tools to accurately diagnose bowel incontinence. If you’re experiencing accidental bowel leakage, your doctor may recommend one or more tests, including:

  • Anal electromyography: This device measures the pressure of the anal sphincter muscles and the sensation in the rectum. It also tests the nerve reflexes needed for normal bowel movements.
  • Anal manometry: A device known as a manometer measures the amount of pressure your sphincter muscles produce.
  • Anorectal ultrasonography: We insert a small probe into the anus that produces high-frequency sound waves and creates images of tissue in the area. This helps us identify lesions, tears or scarring in the sphincter muscles.
  • Proctography: We use special video X-rays to observe how the pelvic floor functions during a bowel movement.
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy: We insert a small, flexible tube with a camera attached into the rectum. This allows us to examine the lower part of the colon for any abnormal growths.

Bowel incontinence treatment

Our compassionate pelvic health specialists are experts at treating bowel incontinence in women. We offer a range of effective treatments and will tailor a care plan specifically for you. It may include:

  • Dietary changes: We’ll help you understand how your diet affects bowel control. Certain food and beverages (such as coffee) can be triggers. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help minimize the problem.
  • Pelvic floor exercises: Weak pelvic floor muscles can increase your risk of fecal incontinence. Our specialized pelvic floor rehabilitation physical therapists will teach you pelvic floor exercises (also called Kegel exercises) to improve control.
  • Bowel training: Working toward having bowel movements on a schedule can help improve bowel control. Choose a time of day when you aren’t rushed, ideally within a half hour of eating a meal.
  • Bulking agents: We can inject bulking agents into the walls of your anus. This helps thicken the walls, lowering the risk of leakage.
  • Vaginal inserts: We can insert a small balloon-like device into the vagina. Once inflated, it puts pressure on the rectum to help stop leakage.
  • Nerve stimulators: The tibial and sacral nerves give signals to the bowels to contract and release. We use innovative nerve stimulation techniques to change these reflexes and reduce the urgent need to go.
  • Surgery: If you have tears or injuries to muscles in the rectum or anus, your doctor may recommend surgery. Our experts use the most advanced, minimally invasive techniques to effectively repair damage and restore bowel control.

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