Fecal incontinence occurs when you lose control of your bowels and accidentally leak liquid stool, solid stool, or mucus from your anus. The frustrating and embarrassing issue can affect anyone, but it’s most common in adults over the age of 65.
Fecal incontinence usually manifests as a powerful impulse to have a bowel movement but not enough time to reach the bathroom. But, you can also leak stool without knowing it. That may occur in people who can’t tell when their rectum is full of stool.
The most common cause of fecal incontinence is a problem within the muscles and nerves in your rectum and anus. Many factors can weaken, damage, or injure these tissues to lead to fecal incontinence, including:
Other factors may also contribute to or cause fecal incontinence, which is why a comprehensive diagnostic exam is so important.
Your evaluation at Valley Urogynecology Associates includes a complete medical history and physical exam to determine the underlying causes and contributing factors of your fecal incontinence.
You may also need tests such as anal manometry, which checks anal sphincter muscle pressure, feeling in your rectum, and reflexive muscle responses.
Another test is anal ultrasound, which checks for abnormalities and defects in your anal sphincter muscles.
Fecal incontinence treatment commonly involves conservative approaches to start. These include:
Increased dietary fiber, with a target of 25-38 grams daily, can help maintain healthy stools.
Certain foods can aggravate bowels, so it’s best to avoid them as much as possible. These include coffee, tea, carbonated sodas, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.
Chronic fecal incontinence can lead to irritated skin around the anus. Many women also develop hemorrhoids, which can be intensely uncomfortable. Changing to soft toilet tissue, avoiding rough wiping, and gentle cleansing with warm water are all good habits to adopt because they can reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.
Pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) can improve the strength in the muscles that control your bowels. You may also work with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor exercises.
A medication called loperamide may be an option to firm frequent loose stools and reduce the instances of fecal incontinence.
If conservative treatments don’t reduce your fecal incontinence episodes, you might need surgery. Anal sphincteroplasty repairs a torn anal sphincter following childbirth. Another option is sacral nerve stimulation, which treats formed (not liquid) stool leakage. Sacral nerve stimulation uses an implanted device to improve nerve function in the anal sphincter.
To learn more about how Valley Urogynecology Associates can help with fecal incontinence, call the office or schedule your evaluation through online booking now.