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Research

Fecal Incontinence

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Fecal incontinence is defined as an involuntary loss of gas or liquid or solid stool. It includes not being able to hold in a bowel movement until reaching a toilet. You may also hear this referred to as anal incontinence. This bowel problem is reported in approximately 18 million people in the United States. However, it is possible many more may have fecal incontinence and do not tell their doctor due to embarrassment. If you feel you may have fecal incontinence, it is important you speak to your doctor.

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Risk Factors

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  • Female sex – again, females are more likely to have fecal incontinence
  • Older Age
  • Damage to the Anal Sphincter, the muscle that holds stool in your body until you can reach a toilet
  • Neurologic disease – SCI, MS, Parkinson’s disease, just to name a few
  • Difficult childbirth that resulted in injury to the pelvic floor
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Chronic constipation
  • Immobility
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Consequences

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Consequences from fecal incontinence can be both medical as well as social and emotional.

Medical:

  • Skin damage from the irritation of leaked stool
  • Urinary tract infections – the bacteria from leaked stool can easily reach the urethra and lead to a UTI

Social and Emotional:

  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Embarrassment
  • Depression
  • Many with fecal incontinence feel they need to organize their daily activities so they are always close to a bathroom to prevent accidents and embarrassment
  • Individuals with fecal incontinence may also avoid enjoyable activities to prevent embarrassment if they have an accident
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Talk to Your Doctor

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Many individuals who have fecal incontinence may go untreated because they are too embarrassed to speak to their doctor. Others may be afraid of what their doctor may recommend as a treatment option. Don’t let this be you!

Your doctor will probably try some very simple management options to begin with. We’ve listed just a few of them below. Some of these are the same used to manage constipation as fecal incontinence can be related to constipation. Our constipation page has some more information on these techniques.

Read our Consumer-Oriented Handout from Dr. Sophie Fletcher

One of our medical advisors has provided this helpful handout with a list of ways to prevent fecal incontinence.

Keeping a Food Diary

Recording what you eat and drink and how your bowel responds to these foods can help you to determine “trigger” foods or those that can lead to leakage for you personally.

Avoiding Common Trigger Foods

These include caffeine, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream), fatty and greasy foods, and certain fruits (apples, peaches, pears).

Eating Foods High in Fiber

Eating more fruits and vegetables and swapping out white grains for whole-wheat can help fecal incontinence and many other areas of your health.

Bowel Training

Working to have bowel movements at a specific time of day may take time but it can reduce episodes of fecal incontinence.

Pelvic Floor Exercise

Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help reduce episodes of fecal incontinence. Your doctor may recommend seeing a physical therapist who specializes in working with the pelvic floor muscles.

Medications

Some of the medications used for constipation such as bulking agents and fiber supplements are also used for fecal incontinence. Other medications may be used to slow down the digestive tract.