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Empowering Conversations: Unveiling the Truth About Fecal Incontinence

by | Incontinence

The Short Story

  • Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements and can range from occasional accidents to constant leakage.
  • You’re not alone—about 18 million adults in the United States have fecal incontinence. 
  • The cause of fecal incontinence can be a real crapshoot—it can be due to nerve damage, muscle weakness, or medical conditions like IBD and diabetes.
  • Treatment options include dietary changes, medication, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery. It is important to talk to a doctor about fecal incontinence to determine the cause and recommended treatment options.

The Deep Dive

Let’s talk poop, people! We all do it, and most of us don’t give it a second thought. But for some, the act of going for a number two can be a source of embarrassment and discomfort. 

Enter: fecal incontinence.

Fecal incontinence, also known as bowel incontinence, is the inability to control bowel movements. This can range from the occasional accident to a constant leakage of stool. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including nerve damage, muscle weakness, and certain medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.  In fact, according to the UCSF, fecal incontinence affects around 18 million people in the United States, and 1 in 10 of the population are affected by fecal incontinence in the UK (Yates, 2017; NHS England, 2018).

There are two main types of fecal incontinence: passive and urge. 

  • Passive incontinence is when a stool leaks out without any warning or feeling of urgency. This is typically caused by muscle weakness in the rectum or anus. 
  • Urge incontinence, on the other hand, is when there is a strong desire to have a bowel movement, but the person cannot hold it in. This is often caused by nerve damage.

Symptoms of fecal incontinence include:

  • Accidental bowel movements
  • Difficulty holding in gas
  • Uncontrolled diarrhea
  • Leakage of liquid stool
  • A feeling of incomplete bowel movement

Fecal incontinence often stems from chronic constipation and a weakened pelvic floor, commonly causing the sphincter muscle around the rectum to lose strength, leading to involuntary stool passage..

We get it, it’s not your typical dinner table conversation, and discussing issues related to continence can be challenging. However, it’s crucial to recognize that you’re not alone in facing these concerns. Although continence issues are not classified as life-threatening, their impact on the quality of life for individuals and their families is profound. As per NHS England (2018), incontinence contributes to a substantial decline in self-esteem, induces feelings of depression, leads to a loss of independence, and has the potential to affect relationships and employment opportunities. The key is to approach these matters with empathy, seeking support, and exploring available treatment options to enhance overall well-being.

Here’s the good news; a study published in the International Journal of Colorectal Disease found that pelvic floor muscle training improved bowel control in 72% of patients with fecal incontinence. Fortunately, addressing these issues is often possible, through dietary changes, bowel regulation through training, engaging in pelvic floor exercises, and actively avoiding constipation

If you’re experiencing fecal incontinence, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it. They can help determine the cause and recommend treatment options. These may include dietary changes, medication, and pelvic physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Now, I know what you may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but where do I even start?” A good place to start is by finding a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor therapy. They can help you learn the proper techniques and create a personalized exercise plan tailored to your needs.

Despite the sensitive nature of fecal incontinence, breaking the taboo around it is vital. If you’re grappling with this issue, remember that you’re not alone, and effective treatments are available. Don’t hesitate to initiate a conversation with your doctor and take charge of your bowel movements.


Disclaimer:Pelvic issues are serious conditions and should be treated accordingly. Peli Health’s attempt at making the tone funny is to lighten the mood and help the reader feel more relaxed when reading about this subject. We are not medical doctors. We do not diagnose illness. The information on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. nor does it constitute providing medical advice or professional services. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition

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