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Bowel Incontinence

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Bowel incontinence is the inability to control gas or stool. It can be as mild as difficulty controlling gas or as severe as the inability to retain solid stool.


Bowel incontinence may be due to a weakened anal sphincter associated with aging or to damage to the nerves and muscles of the rectum and anus. If this happens you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Leakage of stool when expelling gas
  • Drainage

Causes and Risk Factors

Common causes of fecal incontinence include constipation, diarrhea, and muscle or nerve damage. Injury during childbirth is one of the most common causes. While some injuries may be recognized immediately others may go unnoticed and not become a problem until later in life.

  • Anal operations
  • Traumatic injury
  • Nerve damage
  • Loss of strength in the anal muscles due to age or injury
  • Constipation which can weaken the muscles and cause nerve damage
  • Muscle damage from injury or diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis that affect the nerves
  • Loss of storage capacity in the rectum due to scarring, prior surgeries, radiation treatment, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Rectal cancer
  • Other conditions affecting the anus such as rectal prolapse, rectocele, and hemorrhoids

Diagnostic Tests

Bowel incontinence can be caused by a variety of conditions so it’s important to make appointment with your doctor if you have any symptoms that worry you. Often patients don’t seek treatment due to embarrassment but it’s important that you have an honest discussion with your doctor so you can receive the best treatment.

Your doctor will start with a complete medical history to determine the frequency and duration of your symptoms. Additional tests may aid in diagnosis including:

  • Physical exam
  • Anal manometry to measure the strength of your sphincter
  • Anorectal ultrasonography which evaluates the structure of your sphincter
  • Proctography which uses barium and X-ray to measure the capacity of your rectum
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy to detect signs of inflammation, tumors, or scar tissue
  • Anal electromyography to reveal signs of nerve damage.

Treatment and Procedures

Treatment for bowel incontinence depends on the cause and severity and may include dietary changes, medications, special exercises that help you better control your bowels, or surgery.

Treatment of incontinence may include:

• Dietary changes

• Constipating medications

• Muscle strengthening exercises

• Biofeedback

• Surgical muscle repair

• Artificial anal sphincter

Bowel incontinence can be embarrassing, but don't shy away from talking to your doctor. Treatments are available that can improve, if not correct, bowel incontinence.

Your health is our greatest concern. Please contact the Center for Colon & Rectal Surgery at 407.303.2615for a private consultation today.