Fecal Incontinence: What you Need to Know

Almost 10% of Americans suffer from fecal incontinence at least once a month. Ranging from minor incidents to complete loss of bowel control, this condition tends to become an increasing problem with age. 

Uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing, fecal incontinence may accompany occasional bouts of diarrhea, but for a segment of the population, the problem can become chronic. Treatment typically depends on the underlying causes behind the loss of bowel control.

You don’t have to live with fecal incontinence. The doctors at Southeast Urogyn in Jackson, Mississippi, are experts in diagnosing and treating this condition.

Reasons for fecal incontinence

When your stool becomes watery, as is common with diarrhea, it may be harder for you to control leakage from your anal sphincter. But fecal incontinence can also occur with normally formed stools due to other reasons. These can include:

Nerve damage

Chronic constipation, childbirth, stroke, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis can all lead to damage of the nerves that detect when a bowel movement is ready to occur.

Muscle damage

Since the anal sphincter consists of rings of muscle, damage to this tissue may contribute to incontinence.


Swollen veins can prevent complete closure of the anus, which can contribute to leakage.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

This condition is a common cause of recurrent diarrhea.

Rectal prolapse

When tissue of the rectum drops out of position, perhaps due to age or loss of connective-tissue support, incontinence may result.

Rectal storage

The rectum typically stretches to accommodate stool prior to a bowel movement, but it may lose its flexibility due to inflammatory bowel disease, radiation treatment, or surgery.

Diagnosing your condition

Occasional or accidental bowel leakage is likely not a serious medical issue, but if it becomes recurrent, it may start to interfere with daily living. You may choose to stay home to avoid being caught too far from a bathroom, for instance, and your social schedule may become limited.

However, there are treatments for fecal incontinence that can reduce or even cure the condition. Stool testing is often done to detect infections or other causes of diarrhea, or you may be given an endoscopy to reveal physical issues in your colon.

Other tests can determine the strength of your sphincter muscles or the responsiveness of the nerves controlling them.

Treatments for bowel leakage

Conservative treatments for fecal incontinence can include lifestyle changes, such as adding more fiber or water to your diet, avoiding caffeine, or adding Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

Medications can reduce the frequency and urges for bowel movements, and other drugs may be able to address specific conditions that can lead to leakages, such as IBS.

Depending on the reasons behind your symptoms, you may respond to a combination of treatments. Surgical remedies for fecal incontinence are also available if conservative treatments don’t help.

If you have fecal incontinence and want help, book an appointment over the phone with Southeast Urogyn today.

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