What causes fecal incontinence? 13 possible conditions

Viewing 13 of 13 results

Overview

Bowel incontinence, also called fecal incontinence, is a loss of bowel control that results in involuntary fecal elimination. Severity can range from an infrequent involuntary passage of small amounts of stool to a total loss of bowel control. Some people with bowel incontinence feel the urge to have bowel movements but are not able to wait to reach a bathroom. Other people do not feel the sensation of a pending bowel movement and have a complete lack of bowel control. Bowel incontinence can be an embarrassing condition, but it can improve with treatment.

What Causes Bowel Incontinence?

Normal bowel control relies on the proper function of the pelvic muscles, the rectum (the lower end of the large intestine), the sphincter muscles (the muscles in the anus), and the nervous system. Injury to any of these areas can result in bowel incontinence. Common causes of bowel incontinence include:

Fecal Impaction

Chronic constipation can lead to a fecal impaction. This happens when a stool gets stuck in the rectum. The stool can stretch and weaken the sphincter, which makes the muscles incapable of stopping normal passage. Another complication of a fecal impaction is the leakage of liquid fecal matter through the anus.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is the result of loose or liquid stools. These loose stools can cause an immediate need for a bowel movement. The need can be so sudden that you do not have enough time to reach a bathroom.

Muscle Damage

Damage to the sphincter will prevent the muscles from keeping the anus tightly closed. Hemorrhoids, surgery, trauma, and constipation can damage the sphincter muscles.

Nerve Damage

If the nerves that control sphincter movement are damaged, the sphincter muscles will not close properly. When this happens, you will not feel the urge to go to the bathroom. Some causes of nerve damage include trauma from giving birth, frequent constipation, stroke, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

Hemorrhoids

External hemorrhoids can block the sphincter from closing completely. This allows loose stool and mucus to pass involuntarily.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Women can suffer from damage to the muscles and nerves in their pelvis while giving birth, but symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction may not be immediately noticeable. They may occur years later. Complications include:

  • weakness of the pelvic muscles that are used during bowel movements
  • rectal prolapse, which is when the rectum protrudes through the anus
  • rectocele, which is when the rectum protrudes through the vagina

Who Is at Risk for Bowel Incontinence?

Anyone can suffer from bowel incontinence, but certain people are more likely to get it than others. You are at risk if:

  • you are over the age of 65
  • you are a woman
  • you are a woman who have given birth
  • you have frequent constipation
  • you have a disease or injury that caused nerve damage

How Is Bowel Incontinence Diagnosed?

Doctors perform thorough medical evaluations to diagnose bowel incontinence. You doctor will ask you about the frequency of the incontinence, when it occurs, diet, medications, and health problems. The following tests may help reach a diagnosis:

  • physical examination of the rectal area
  • stool culture
  • barium enema (X-ray of the large intestine, including the colon and rectum)
  • blood tests
  • electromyography (EMG) (to test the function of muscles and related nerves)
  • ultrasound
  • X-ray

How Is Bowel Incontinence Treated?

The treatment for bowel incontinence depends on the cause. Some of the treatment options include:

Diet

Foods that cause diarrhea or constipation are identified and eliminated from the diet. This can help normalize and regulate bowl movements. Your doctor many recommend an increase in fluids and fiber.

Medications

For diarrhea, antidiarrheal medications, such as loperamide, codeine, or Lomotil, may be prescribed to thicken stools. You doctor may recommend fiber supplements for constipation.

Bowel Retraining

Following a bowel retraining routine can encourage normal bowel movements. Aspects of this routine may include:

  • sitting on the toilet on a regular schedule
  • stimulating the sphincter muscles with a lubricated finger
  • using suppositories to stimulate bowel movements

Incontinence Undergarments

You have the option of wearing specially designed undergarments for added protection. These garments are available in disposable and reusable forms, and some brands use technology that minimizes odors.

Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These exercises involve a routine of repeatedly contracting the muscles that are used when going to the bathroom. You should consult a doctor to learn the correct way to do the exercises.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback is an alternative medical technique. With it, you learn to use your mind to control your bodily functions with the help of sensors. If you have bowel incontinence, biofeedback will help you learn how to control and strengthen your sphincter muscles. Sensors are placed in your anus and on your abdomen. Your doctor will then ask you to contract the sphincter muscles. The muscle contractions are visually displayed as a graph on a computer screen so you can observe the strength of the muscle movements. By watching the graph (the feedback), you learn how to improve rectal muscle control (the bio).

Surgery

Surgical treatment is generally reserved for severe cases of bowel incontinence. There are several surgical options available.

  • Sphincteroplasty: A defective or scarred portion of the sphincter is removed, and the healthy part of the muscle is tightened.
  • Gracilis muscle transplant: The gracilis muscle is transferred from the thigh and placed around the sphincter muscles to add strength and support.
  • Artificial sphincter: An artificial sphincter is a silicone ring that is implanted in the anus. You manually deflate the artificial sphincter to allow for defecation and inflate it to close the anus, which prevents the leakage of feces.
  • Colostomy: Some people who have severe bowel incontinence choose to undergo surgery for a colostomy. During a colostomy surgery, the surgeon redirects the end of the large intestine to pass through the abdominal wall. A disposable bag is attached to the stoma (the portion of the intestine that is visible on the outside of the abdomen). After the surgery is complete, stools no longer pass through the anus but instead empty from the stoma into a disposable bag.

Solesta

Solesta is an injectable gel that was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 for the treatment of bowel incontinence. The goal of Solesta treatment is to increase the amount of rectal tissue. The gel is injected into the anus and effectively reduces or completely treats bowel incontinence in some patients. It works by causing the growth of rectal tissue, which narrows the anal opening and helps it stay tightly closed.

Can Bowel Incontinence Be Prevented?

Age, past trauma, and certain medical conditions can cause bowl incontinence. Unfortunately, the condition is not always preventable. The risk, however, can be reduced by maintaining regular bowel movements and by keeping the pelvic muscles strong.

Article Sources:

Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Spinal Cord Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A spinal cord injury, or damage to the spinal cord, is an extremely serious type of physical trauma. It will likely have a lasting and significant impact on most aspects of daily life. According to the Nationa...

Read more »

2

Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity, from mild discomfort to complete disability.

Read more »

3

Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

Read more »

4

Fecal Impaction of the Colon

When you eat, food is broken down in your stomach and passed through your intestines in a process called digestion. Nutrients from the food are absorbed through the wall of your intestines, and what remains as waste i...

Read more »

5

Intestinal Obstruction

If your small or large intestine becomes blocked, fluid and digested food cannot move through. This can cause bloating, stomach cramps, and burping.

Read more »

6

Seizures

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical activity that cause violent shaking and loss of bodily control. Bruises can result from injuries sustained during a seizure.

Read more »

7

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a group of behavioral and emotional problems that usually begins during childhood or teenage years. People with the disorder have a long-term and continual pattern of behavior that violates th...

Read more »

8

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes severe inflammation of the digestive tract. It is associated with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and may affect your quality of life. Crohn's disease is characterized b...

Read more »

9

Spinal Cord Abscess

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Spinal cord abscess (SCA) is a rare condition capable of causing permanent damage to the spinal cord. Abscesses are caused when injured tissue becomes infected. The body's immune system sends white blood cells to hel...

Read more »

10

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder. Learn about the causes, signs and research being done about AD.

Read more »

11

Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is an uncommon cancer occurring in the tissues that make up the opening through which stool passes out of the body.

Read more »

12

Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and causes muscles throughout the body to tighten. Tetanus is also commonly called lockjaw, because the infection primarily causes muscl...

Read more »

13

All About Autonomic Dysrelexia (or Hyperreflexia)

Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a condition where the involuntary nervous system overreacts to external or bodily stimuli. This reaction causes a dangerous spike in blood pressure, racing heart, constriction of periphera...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
  • Page 1 of 1
Advertisement
Are you experiencing other symptoms?

I'm experiencing:

Choose from list of symptoms:

Advertisement