Fecal incontinence (loss of bowel control)

Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Fecal incontinence (loss of bowel control) (Disease)


Fecal incontinence (or faecal incontinence, FI) is the loss of regular control of the bowels. Involuntary excretion and leaking are common occurrences for those affected.

Subjects relating to defecation are often socially unacceptable, thus those affected may be beset by feelings of shame and humiliation. Some do not seek medical help and instead attempt to self-manage the problem. This can lead to social withdrawal and isolation, which can turn into cases of agoraphobia. Such effects may be reduced by undergoing prescribed treatment, taking prescribed medicine and making dietary changes.

Causes and Risk factors

The lack of ability to control bowel movements causing stool (feces) to pass unexpectedly from the rectum. It is also called bowel incontinence. This disorder can range from occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control. The following conditions are associated with bowel incontinence: spinal cord injury (cauda equina syndrome), laxative abuse, previous rectal surgery, rectal damage during childbirth, rectal damage after radiation treatment, after extensive pelvic surgery, fecal impaction, and with psychological problems.

Constipation causes prolonged muscle stretching and leads to weakness of the intestinal muscles. After a certain point, the rectum will no longer close tightly enough to prevent stool loss, resulting in incontinence.

Fecal incontinence can be caused by injury to one or both of the ring-like muscles at the end of the rectum called the internal and external anal sphincters. During normal function, these sphincters help retain stool. In women, damage can occur during childbirth. Fecal incontinence can also be caused by damage to the nerves that control the anal sphincters or to the nerves that detect stool in the rectum.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Therapy depends on the severity and cause of the disorder. Treatment includes: medications, bowel training, and/or surgery to repair or replace rectal sphincter. ...