Fecal Incontinence

What is fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence is a term used to describe leakage from the bowel due to poor bowel control. You may also find you have excessive wind or experience staining of your underwear. Poor bowel control can be caused or made worse by a number of things including certain health conditions or medicines taken for other problems.

What causes fecal incontinence?

Factors that can lead to loss of bowel control include:

  • Long-term straining
  • Medications, e.g. antibiotics, drugs for arthritis, and diabetes
  • Lifestyle, e.g. heavy lifting leading to weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Weak back passage muscles due to having babies, getting older, some types of surgery, or radiation therapy
  • Diabetes
  • Nerve disorders resulting from MS and Parkinson's
  • Severe diarrhea, or
  • Constipation

What should I do?

Visit your doctor or other health professional if you have concerns about bowel control. Difficulty with bowel or bladder control can be prevented, treated, better managed, or cured. You shouldn't be embarrassed to discuss your bowel problems with your doctor becuase many other people experience problems, too.

The first step in improving bowel control is to have a full continence assessment carried out by a health professional. This assessment will take into account your medical history and current health, including diet and fluid intake, exercise levels and mobility, all the medicines you are currently taking, and any other factors that could affect bowel function. Your doctor will then plan an individual bowel program to help solve problems such as constipation, diarrhea, or fecal incontinence. If your constipation problem does not improve, your doctor may perform more tests or refer you to one or more specialists in this area of health.

You should speak to your doctor if you have:

  • bowel mishaps regularly
  • a change in your normal bowel habits
  • pain or bleeding from the back passage
  • a feeling that your bowel is never quite empty
  • dark or black stools, or
  • weight loss that you can't explain

How can I manage fecal incontinence?

Thankfully, there are ways that you can manage fecal incontinence.

Keep a diary of your bowel movements. Knowledge is power. Start by recording information about your bowel movements in a diary. You can use the diary to inform your doctor about your condition. In many cases the underlying causes of fecal incontinence can be treated and symptoms eliminated or decreased. Information you should write down in the diary include: What you ate or drank and when you consumed it. When you have your bowel movements. The consistency of your bowel movements and how much.

Increase liquid and fiber intake. Because constipation can be a significant cause of fecal incontinence, be sure you get enough liquid and fiber. Check with your doctor, but typically adults should have six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water-based liquids such as water, fruit (especially prune), or vegetable juices. Avoid milk and limit caffeine. Also, be careful with citrus-based fluids as they can cause bladder irritability in some people. Increasing fiber can help stools stay soft. Along with high-fiber foods, you can also take fiber supplements like high-fiber bars, candies or even dissolvable powders.

Control diarrhea. If you have problems with loose stools, be sure to discuss this with your doctor. Foods that can help include applesauce and rice. Avoid spicy or fried foods.

Make elimination routine. Create a routine of going to the toilet at times when you are most likely to have a bowel movement.

Use adult pads or briefs. Often using adult pads or briefs is a good idea to protect against accidents and to make clean-up easier. Absorbent disposable undergarments help protect fragile skin by keeping feces and moisture away from your skin.

Useful supplies. Using an odor neutralizing spray before and after a diaper change can be helpful. Have a plastic bag handy to hold the soiled diaper and close it securely.

Protect fragile skin. Fecal matter has digestive enzymes and bacteria that can quickly damage fragile skin. Skin irritation, diaper rash (also known as incontinence associated dermatitis (IAD), fungal infection, and bed sores (pressure ulcers) can be a serious complication of this problem. Protect skin by changing diapers or clothing as soon as possible and cleaning up with a pH-balanced cleansing foam. Also, it is important to moisturize the area with a quality moisturizer so that skin does not become irritated.

You are not alone when managing fecal incontinence, millions of people also deal with this condition. Managing fecal incontinence can be a difficult job, but it can be much easier when you are armed with the right information and products.