What is bowel incontinence?
Bowel, or fecal, incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements. It can cause stool or gas to leak from the rectum unexpectedly.
The rectum, anus, pelvic muscles, and nervous system must function properly to maintain normal bowel function. The physical and mental ability to recognize and respond to the urge to have a bowel movement also is necessary for healthy bowel function.
What are the symptoms of bowel incontinence?
The symptoms of bowel incontinence include, but are not limited to:
- Constipation or straining to have a bowel movement
- Development of bowel fistula, an abnormal passage between two organs or to the body surface
- Involuntary loss of stool
What are the risk factors for bowel incontinence?
Bowel incontinence can happen to anyone, and without a clear cause. But some risk factors include:
- Being female
- Increasing age
- Nerve damage
- Physical disability
How is bowel incontinence diagnosed?
Bowel incontinence often can be diagnosed by discussing your symptoms and medical history. Various diagnostic tests can help confirm bowel incontinence and determine treatment, including:
- Anal electromyography: Measures the pressure of the anal sphincter muscles, the sensation in the rectum, and the neural reflexes that are needed for normal bowel movements.
- Anal manometry: A device known as a manometer measures the amount of pressure your sphincter muscles produce.
- Anorectal ultrasonography: Uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of tissue beneath the surface of the anal canal or rectum using a small probe. Helps identify lesions, tears, or scarring in the sphincter muscles.
- Proctography: Radiologic test in which X-rays are used to show the function of the pelvic floor during defecation.
- Proctosigmoidoscopy: Internal examination of the colon using an instrument called a sigmoidoscope, which is a flexible tube with a small camera attached.
How is bowel incontinence treated?
Your treatment will depend on the severity and type of bowel incontinence, and on your unique situation.
Bowel incontinence treatments may include pelvic floor exercises, physical therapy, and behavioral therapy. Surgery may be required to restore the normal function and integrity of the anal sphincter.
How can I prevent bowel incontinence?
Some forms of bowel incontinence may be prevented. Recommendations to minimize your risk include:
- Avoid straining
- Minimize diarrhea
- Reduce constipation
Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your personal risk for bowel incontinence.