Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Bowel Incontinence
Coping with bowel incontinence can be difficult, but it is extremely common. In fact, up to 1 in 10 people are believed to be affected by bowel incontinence in the UK alone. What’s more, incontinence becomes more common the older a person becomes.
The reason the condition is so common is that there are many different causes. And despite common misconception, incontinence is typically a result of underlying issues, as opposed to a problem in and of itself.
The good news is the condition is both manageable and treatable.
Below, we explore some of the primary causes for faecal incontinence, how it is commonly treated, as well as some useful tips for managing it effectively.
What is bowel incontinence?
Bowel incontinence – also known as faecal incontinence – is the loss of stool, liquid, or gas (wind) at undesirable or unintentional intervals.
Common symptoms include:
- urges to pass stool that you cannot control
- passing stool or liquid when passing wind
- constipation or diarrhoea
- bloating and trapped wind
- soiling yourself without realising you needed the toilet
Of course, one-off accidents can happen, especially if you find yourself ill with a stint of diarrhoea.
However, if the above symptoms are a regular occurrence, this could be a sign that you have a problem.
Do bear in mind that how ‘regular’ we are is different for everyone. But bear in mind that having more than three bowel movements per day, or fewer than three per week, is considered unusual.
What causes bowel incontinence?
As noted above, there are many causes for bowel incontinence, and faecal incontinence is often a symptom or knock-on effect of other health conditions.
That is because many parts of the body are involved in a regular bowel movement. Ordinarily, the rectum, anus, pelvic muscles and nervous system will work together to allow you to pass a normal regular, stool.
However, should any of these parts of the body be damaged, infected, or dysfunctional, faecal incontinence can occur.
Regular causes of incontinence include:
- Muscle or nerve damage (as a result of surgery, childbirth, or even neurological conditions)
- Infection of, or damage to, the rectum
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Colitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD)
- Chronic constipation
Finding the root cause of your faecal incontinence is the first step to treating it.
How is bowel incontinence diagnosed?
Simple tests can usually determine the cause of bowel incontinence, which is why it is always important to see your GP if you believe you are affected by it.
Your doctor may choose to undertake a physical exam as the first port of call, but they may also put you in for other assessments or scans to determine the root cause.
Tests typically check areas such as the colon, rectum, anal muscles, and pelvic floor muscles. Blood tests may also be required if auto-immune deficiencies or food intolerances are suspected to be part of the problem.
How is bowel incontinence treated?
The good news is, faecal incontinence can be treated – and the success rate is extremely high.
The treatment given depends on the cause of the problem. Some remedies include:
- Diet modifications
- Physical Therapy
- Surgery (though this is usually a last resort in most cases).
Full continence may not always be achieved with the treatments above. However, there are ways to manage the condition successfully to help relieve symptoms and associated stress.
How can you manage faecal incontinence?
The key to successful incontinence management will vary from person to person. However, there are some crucial steps you can take to make management less stressful.
A good routine and effective planning
Having a regular routine will help you to monitor the intervals at which you are most likely to experience incontinence, and can help you to track and anticipate bowel movements effectively.
Planning activities such as days out, or travelling to and from work or events, around your bowel movements can also reduce stress associated with incontinence management.
Avoiding foods and drinks which are high in acidity or caffeine, or contain aggravators such as sweeteners or preservatives, can be a good way to manage incontinence.
While some substances are proven to have a direct link to incontinence, many such as spices are reported by sufferers to be aggravators of the bowel.
Light exercises which focus on the pelvic floor muscles are a great way to strengthen the muscles which control bowel movements.
Low impact exercises such as Kegels, or swimming, can help to strengthen the muscles without causing too much strain or pressure.
Despite faecal incontinence often feeling like a taboo topic, we would always advise you to seek professional help should persistence incontinence arise.
After all, with the condition being so common, GPs are extremely used to dealing with incontinence patients and will do so with care.