Q: What is fecal incontinence?
A: Fecal incontinence, also known as bowel incontinence, is the inability to control bowel movements. This condition varies widely in intensity, from occasional leakage to complete loosening of the bowels.
Q: What causes fecal incontinence?
A: This common condition has many potential causes. Women during and after childbirth often experience fecal incontinence, particularly if childbirth results in muscle or nerve damage. The muscles around the colon and anus tend to weaken with age, so the elderly are particularly prone to fecal incontinence. This condition is also linked with diarrhea and constipation, which themselves can be symptoms of other ailments.
Q: What are the symptoms of fecal incontinence?
A: There are two major types of fecal incontinence:
- Urge incontinence involves a strong, uncontrollable urge to defecate. This urge can strike so suddenly that those afflicted don’t have time to reach the bathroom.
- Passive incontinence involves defecation without the person’s knowledge. Those afflicted are unaware that they are having bowel movements, which can occur during separate activities, like passing gas.
Both types of incontinence can lead to complications. Physically, the skin around the anus can become irritated and painful due to repeated contact with stool. Emotionally, the loss of bodily control can lead to shame, embarrassment, and frustration.
Q: What can I do at home to prevent fecal incontinence?
A: There are many lifestyle changes that can make a difference, from simple dietary changes to exercise.
- Since both diarrhea and constipation can lead to fecal incontinence, treating these conditions may address the issue. For diarrhea, anti-diarrheal drugs like Imodium and Lomotil may be prescribed. For constipation, we recommend over-the-counter fiber supplements like Citrucel and Metamucil.
- Changing your diet affects the consistency of your stools. For example, if your stools are watery, fiber-rich foods add bulk and make them easier to pass. If your stools are hard and dry, drinking fluids will make them softer.
- Certain exercises can restore strength to the anal sphincter and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. With biofeedback, you can gain greater control of your bowel muscles so they contract only when necessary. Also, training yourself to take bowel movements on a regular schedule keeps your stool consistent.
Q: What surgeries are available?
A: Surgeries are only necessary in more severe cases that involve nerve or muscle damage.
- A sphincteroplasty repairs the anal sphincter if it has been weakened or torn. The muscles are sewn back together and allowed to heal. This operation is sometimes necessary after childbirth due to the strain it exerts on the pelvic muscles.
- If the sphincter has been extensively damaged, it can be replaced with an artificial sphincter. The inflatable device is attached to an external pump, allowing you to deflate it when you are ready to defecate. The device then reinflates itself.
- As a last resort, a colostomy bypasses the sphincter altogether by diverting stool through a surgically created channel to an exterior collection bag.
Q: How can I contact Dr. Davidson?
A: Call our practice at to schedule a consultation. Fecal incontinence is a common problem with many potential solutions. Let us help you find the best possible treatment.