Bowel Incontinence Archives

A study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology found that the prevalence of faecal incontinence (defined as the accidental leakage of liquid /solid stool or mucus at least once in the preceding month) increased slightly between 2005 and 2010. The highlights of the study include the following:

- women are more likely than men to suffer from faecal incontinence

- faecal incontinence is associated with aging

- faecal incontinence is a frequent reason cited for admission to nursing homes

- faecal incontinence is underestimated, due to the shame associated with the condition; many patients fail to report the problem to their doctor due to embarrassment

- the overall prevalence of faecal incontinence was 7.74% (2005 to 2012)

- 9.59% of those participants older than 70 years experienced faecal incontinence

There are many causes of faecal incontinence, including altered bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), nerve or muscle damage, loss of rectal tone, pelvic floor disorders and hemorrhoids.

Individuals who suffer from faecal incontinence should not suffer in silence. There are many treatments that can improve or cure fecal incontinence. Some of these include:

  • changes in diet/nutrition
  • pelvic floor exercises
  • electrical stimulation (sacral nerve stimulation)
  • bowel training
  • medications
  • surgery (i.e., sphincteroplasty, creation of artificial sphincter)

Faecal incontinence almost always has its roots in a medical condition that can be helped by one or more medical treatments. Patients should not be ashamed of the problem but should instead seek assistance from their doctor.

Contrary to what many people might think, faecal incontinence is quite a common condition—and not only amongst the elderly and the infirm. Some people, for one reason or another, experience injuries or tears to the circular ring of muscles closing the anus leading to the development of faecal incontinence.

Causes of Faecal incontinence.

The commonest cause of tearing in the anal sphincter is complication of a difficult delivery, known as obstetric complications, in which the midwife or doctor had to use instruments, such as the forceps, to extract the baby. The anal sphincter can also be injured because of a major surgical procedure for the removal of a tumour or anal surgery.  Anal tears are a common cause of bowel incontinence in women.

Other conditions that cause severe pelvic muscle floor weakness can easily cause faecal incontinence. Such conditions include severe neurological disease (Multiple Sclerosis, Spina bifia, severe spinal cord injury).

Products used for Faecal Incontinence

Most patients with faecal incontinence are satisfied using protective incontinence products such as the absorptive incontinence pads, the All-in-One briefs, and the pull-up pants.  The concept behind the use of these products is simple. They act as a barrier between the faeces and the patient’s under garments preventing their soiling.  They are then removed and disposed of to be replaced by a fresh product and so on. Patients with mild bowel incontinence, who may just have streaks of stool passing involuntarily, usually find these protective products very convenient and efficient. Patients who suffer from severe incontinence need to use adult diapers in order to maximally control the leakage.

However, some patients’ lives suffer considerably because of their constant worry about the faecal soiling. This is a problem especially with the young and active. The feel of a soiled pad rubbing against their body is definitely not conducive to their exercise routine, or the activity in their daily lives. Some other patients suffer from stool incontinence accompanied by prolapse (or drooping of the anal lining) and are extremely discomfited by it. Anal plugs may offer  these patients some relief because they prevent stool from leaking altogether.

How are Anal Plugs Used for Anal Incontinence

Anal plugs are medical devices made of a porous absorbent material that lets air in and blocks the leaks entirely offering the patient a few hours of faecal incontinence free life. Anal plugs are available in two sizes. It is always recommended to try the smaller size first. Only use the bigger size if leakage continues. You will need to consult with your physician before you can buy it.  The only brand available in the UK is the “Peristeen anal plug”, and it is available by prescription only.

It is worth noting that anal plugs can only be used for a short period of time. They are not a permanent protective product that you can rely on. It should be kept for occasions where you need the most protection. Otherwise, rely on the good old pad for your basic faecal incontinence needs

Our digestive system breaks down the nutrients in the food that we eat and are absorbed by the body to be used for muscle contractions. Different people have different metabolism and each of us digest our food intake differently. Some people can eat almost anything without any stomach upset. Some people get indigestion by drinking milk. These differences may be caused by a deficiency of digestive enzymes in the stomach or preponderance thereof.

When our stomach is upset we may experience the following symptoms:

  • Bloated feeling
  • Gas or flatulence
  • Hyperacidity
  • Belching
  • Gut pain
  • Spasm
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation

The most common reaction of our bowel to any disturbance is stool incontinence or diarrhoea. This is the involuntary passage of watery stool with alarming frequency. A normal bowel moves once or twice a day at anytime depending on the person’s toilet habits. With incontinence, bowel movement is loose, frequent and uncomfortable. If diarrhoea is ignored and not treated within 24 hours, dehydration sets in and serious complications may occur.

Bowel disturbance is a symptom of several underlying reasons such as:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Coeliac disease
  • Colitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Gastritis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Food allergies
  • Intestinal bacteria
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Reaction to certain antibiotics
  • Stress

Treatment for bowel incontinence depends on the underlying cause. Upon the onset of the symptoms, it is recommended to seek medical advice. An internist or a gastroenterologist can help you determine the causative factors and start treatment that is focused on the real problem.  Series of laboratory tests and diagnostic analysis are needed before your doctor is able to make a medical prognosis. Several treatment options may be tried to treat the symptoms which may include:

  • Fibre. If the bowel problem is constipation, a fibre-rich diet is recommended. Fibre is found in many fruits, vegetables, cereals, whole meal bread, and other natural foods. It is not absorbed by the body and goes down to the intestines as a binding component of our faeces.
  • Proper Diet. Some foods may irritate our bowels.  Fatty and spicy foods, alcohol and carbonated beverages may cause hyperacidity in some people. Consult the food pyramid and choose what food from the different food groups would sit well in your stomach.  Lactose intolerance and allergy to dairy products are not uncommon, avoidance is the best solution.
  • Lifestyle Change. Eat a regular meal. Skipping meals while working or on diet is not a good habit to keep. Working on an empty stomach deprives your body of the much needed nutrients necessary to be healthy. Avoid eating in a rush; chew the food slowly to give your stomach a time to digest the small portions.
  • Water Therapy. Water cleanses our system and helps the body flush out the toxins. Water neutralizes the acid in our stomach and helps soften the stool for easy passage. Replace caffeine, carbonated and alcoholic drinks with plain water.
  • Probiotic Agents. Certain antibiotics kill some of the friendly bacteria that are naturally present in our gut. Discontinue use of the antibiotic if it is causing you diarrhoea or constipation. Probiotic agents help in restoring the presence of these bacteria.
  • Physical Exercise. Lose excess weight if you are overweight.  Working out relieves tension and stress. Exercise helps in digestion and faster absorption of the nutrients by the body.
  • Hypnotherapy. Hypnosis may work on some people by relieving stress and emotional trauma. This only works in people who believe in it and are willing to be hypnotized.
  • Medication. Loperamides are effective for common diarrhoea. This type of medicine works as a plug to stop loose bowel movement. However, this is not advisable for toxic guts. Anti-spasmodic medicines ease the spastic pain and calm the stomach nerves. Laxatives are given to constipated people but should be taken sparingly.  Anti-depressants help in calming spastic or overactive bowel by reducing the involuntary contractions of the intestines.

Whatever is causing your stool incontinence, it is good to remember three things; eat moderately, abstain from your triggers and always think positively.

Disclaimer: All material published on the Incontinence.co.uk web site is for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained herein with other sources. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by your doctor or health professional. Readers should always discuss health matters and review the information carefully with their doctor or health care professional. Extended Disclaimer
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