Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence, describes the inability to control various bowel movements, including flatulence (gas) or stool. This condition can be a spectrum of diseases ranging from mild difficulties controlling gas to experiencing severe problems such as complete loss of control over liquid or formed stools. According to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, approximately 2% of American women are affected by this condition.
Although there are many causes of bowel incontinence, most of the time incontinence occurs in women after perineal injury during childbirth. Women have shorter and smaller size anorectal sphincter muscle that is more prone to injury during childbirth. Sometimes these injuries do not compromise sphincter muscle function until later on in life. Anorectal procedures or traumatic injuries may also cause bowel incontinence. Injuries or older age may cause the anal muscles to lose strength, which can inhibit adequate bowel control. Evaluation by Colorectal Surgeon is recommended to diagnose and subsequently treat bowel incontinence.
Chronic, recurring bowel incontinence, usually produces the following symptoms:
- Inability to control the passage of gas, liquid or solid stools
- Always feeling of “never completely clean”
- Need to wear a feminine pad or diaper
- Always scanning your location to locate the nearest bathroom
- Symptoms affecting your quality of life and not able to do normal activity
Treatment for bowel incontinence includes a combination of techniques including dietary changes, medications, biofeedback, surgical intervention, muscle strengthening exercises, or an artificial anal sphincter. A colon and rectal surgeon may also recommend a unique treatment called sacral nerve stimulation, which delivers electrical energy to nerves that control sphincter movements. Extreme cases of bowel incontinence may be mitigated through a colostomy.