The use of an Anal Plug for Incontinence Management

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).

The large intestine

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. Shaped faecal incontinence pads often feature odour protection and a waterproof backing to ensure comfort and protection. Pads provide greater protection against faecal incontinence if you wear them with Stretch Pants as they are held close to the body and provide extra security. All-in-ones are designed for users with lower levels of mobility or those who are bed based. The all-in-one incontinence briefs are designed to fit completely around the body before being fastened securely with tapes. Incontinence Pull Up Incontinence Pants work just like normal underwear and are best suited for active people with moderate to heavy incontinence who are looking for more convenient and disposable incontinence products. Pull Up Incontinence Pants provide higher security levels, include incontinence odour protection and when ready to be replaced can be torn at the side for convenient and discreet removal.


The concept behind the use of these products is simple. They act as a barrier between the faeces and the patients 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 is an Anal Plug Used for Anal Incontinence?

Anal plugs are foam, cup-shaped devices that sit inside the rectum and thus prevent bowel leakage. The devices are 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. The medical grade foam in the plugs is slightly absorbent but can allow air to pass through. Individual plugs are covered in a dissolvable film which keeps the plug in a size and shape similar to a suppository or small tampon for easy insertion. Once in the rectum, moisture from the lining of the rectum dissolves the film and the anal plug expands to a cup or mushroom shape. Alan Plugs have a string attached for easy removal.


Where can you buy Anal Plugs?

You will need to consult with your physician before you can buy an Anal Plug for incontinence management. The plugs are available in two sizes, but it is always recommended to try the smaller size of Anal Plugs first. You are advised to only use the bigger size if leakage continues. 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, you can simply use a pad for your basic faecal incontinence needs. Anal Plugs can stay in place for a maximum of 12 hours but must be removed in order to pass stool. They have a string attached for easy removal.


How effective are Anal Plugs?

Anal plugs work well for many people who experience a positive effect on their quality of life. They can put people’s mind at rest during use and are commonly much more effective than a simple faecal pad. Their effectiveness has been found to vary and some people are unable to use them. They can cause discomfort which some people find unacceptable; they may be better tolerated by people with reduced sensation around the bowel, for example, in spinal injury. If you do have sensation around the bowel, you might find them to be tolerable for short periods of time for certain activities and prefer to use an alternative product for the rest of the day. You are recommended to talk to a health care professional with experience of anal plugs for help in getting fitted and choosing the right size.


Anal tampons are another product option for managing faecal incontinence. The anal tampon features a soft foam surrounded by a film that keeps it compressed. The natural moisture and heat of the intestines releases the film and the foam expands, adapting itself to the anatomical conditions. The tampons are only to be used under a doctor or continence advisor’s direct instructions. In mild cases, improper use can cause impaction and severe faecal retention. If you feel anal tampons may be suitable for you, ensure you visit a doctor first and ask for advice.


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