Bowel incontinence means being unable to control the urge to open your bowels, which can result in soiling (encopresis), embarrassment and a severe impact on quality of life. Find out about treatment options for bowel incontinence.
Bowel incontinence can affect people differently. For example, you may be experiencing:
- A sudden urge to poo that you can’t control
- Sometimes leaking poo, for example when you pass wind
- Soiling yourself without realising you needed to go for a poo
Don’t be embarrassed to discuss your issue with a medical professional
Bowel incontinence can be very upsetting and understandably, people find it a difficult subject to talk about. This makes it hard to estimate accurately the number of people who are affected but experts agree that the actual number is likely to be far higher than statistics suggest.
A 2014 study which interviewed 500 people with irritable bowel syndrome found that more than half of them (57%) reported some level of bowel incontinence.
If you suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, your chance of having bowel incontinence may be even higher. A study published in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis on 1 September 2013 (Faecal incontinence in inflammatory bowel disease: Associations and effect on quality of life) concluded that at least a quarter but possibly as many as three quarters of people with IBD have some form of bowel incontinence.
The problem can have a major impact on your quality of life and, in some cases, may prevent people from socialising or going out of the house.
Causes of bowel incontinence
There are a number of reasons why you might be suffering from bowel incontinence:
- Childbirth or surgery, which can damage the muscles or nerves linked to bowel control – women are more often affected by the problem than men.
- Bowel conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Severe haemorrhoids.
- Chronic constipation or diarrhoea – this is particularly common in children.
- Conditions affecting the nerves in your bottom, including diabetes, stroke and spina bifida.
- Ageing, which can lead to impaired rectal sensation and/or neurological damage.
Treatment of bowel incontinence
Sadly, many people fail to seek medical help for the condition, sometimes for many years. But there is no need to suffer in silence as there are treatments that can help.
Your doctor will want to diagnose the cause of the problem and rule out any serious issues such as bowel cancer so you will normally have a physical examination and may be referred for a colonoscopy to look inside your bowel.
Once any serious issues have been ruled out, your doctor will discuss the best course of treatment for you. It is likely to include a mix of:
- Dietary changes, For example, reducing high fibre food and avoiding caffeine to prevent diarrhoea Or eating more high fibre food and drinking fluids to prevent constipation.
- Bowel retraining exercises, such as creating a regular routine for going to the toilet.
- Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
- Medication to slow the bowel down and/or bulk up your poo.
- Surgery, including repairing damaged anal sphincter muscles and sacral nerve stimulation to make your anal nerves work better.
- Continence clinics which provide information and details of continence products (including pads and plugs)
- Radar NKS Key which will enable you to use disabled toilets
- Colostomy in severe cases.
Diagnosis of bowel disorders | London
Dr Jamie Murphy will perform various diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
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