It can stink up your social life. But fecal incontinence is often curable.
Fecal, or bowel, incontinence is the inability to control gas, liquid stool, or even, in severe cases, solid stool. It can be an embarrassing condition. So much so that many people with minor cases often choose not to discuss related concerns with their physician, incorrectly assuming that fecal incontinence is simply a normal part of old age. But it isn’t.
Almost twice as many women as men suffer from severe fecal incontinence, but the exact number of those with the syndrome is tough to gauge due to underreporting‒ likely because of patient embarrassment. Fecal incontinence can be caused by a number of factors, most commonly damage to the muscles or nerves controlling the anus. This can be the result of trauma to the anal muscles during childbirth or rectal or pelvic surgery. Diabetes and several other conditions can also affect the nerves. Severe digestive conditions can worsen the problem by causing diarrhea or making the rectum more irritable.
Do You have Fecal Incontinence?
If simple tricks like adding more fiber to your diet and using the toilet even when you do not have the urge fail to work for you—there is good news. More options are available to diagnose and treat this condition than ever before, they include:
These range from tracking toilet habits to performing muscle testing, ultrasound imaging, or even an MRI.
Pelvic floor specialists can offer physical therapy to treat your concerns.
Minimally invasive procedures
Sacral nerve stimulation involves the implantation of a small device in the upper buttock that sends mild electrical pulses to the nerves that control bowel movements, stimulating them.
Anal muscle reconstructive surgery rebuilds the structures in the anus to help block any leakage.
Left untreated, fecal incontinence can lead to social isolation, limits on food and travel and a significant decrease in quality of life. Other issues can include recurrent urinary tract infections‒due to the frequent presence of fecal bacteria, and skin concerns caused by constant moisture in undergarments.
There is no reason to suffer when there are options to improve your life. Nothing is too embarrassing for your physician, it is our job to find solutions for what are often times embarrassing issues.
Mindy Petit, R.N., C.G.R.N. is a patient advocate and Digestive Health Program Coordinator who provides education and referrals for patients. Mindy monitors each patient’s diagnostic, treatment and survival plan to ensure that evidence-based national guidelines set forth by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network are followed in order to provide the best patient outcomes possible.