How to Cope with Bowel Incontinence

If you suffer from bowel incontinence, you are not alone. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 5.5 million Americans have the condition. Bowel incontinence, also called fecal incontinence, is the inability to control your bowel movements, causing your stool (feces) to leak from the rectum uncontrollably. The problem can occur occasionally, for example leaking stool while passing gas, or you can have a complete loss of bowel control.

The causes of bowel incontinence are many. Chronic or recurring diarrhea due to Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ulcerative colitis can sometimes scar the rectum, making it difficult for the rectum to hold the stools. Damage to the anal sphincter, which allows stools to be passed by muscles pulling the anus up over the feces when you have a bowel movement, caused by aging or weakened muscles of the rectum and anus from giving birth, can also cause the problem.

While it may be embarrassing to talk about, don't hesitate to tell your doctor about any symptoms of bowel incontinence you may be experiencing. Good treatments are available to improve, if not completely correct, the problem.

Symptoms of Bowel Incontinence

Usually, adults don't have problems with bowel incontinence except when having severe bouts of diarrhea. Symptoms of the condition can vary from an inability to control the passage of gas or stools, which may be liquid or solid, from your bowels; leakage of stool during daily activities or exertion; or not being able to make it to the toilet in time.  Other symptoms that may accompany bowel incontinence include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Urinary incontinence

Episodes of fecal incontinence can occur every day, every week or monthly.


Depending on the severity of your bowel incontinence symptoms your doctor may recommend:

  • Anti-diarrheal medications-Imodium (loperamide) can reduce diarrhea and help you avoid fecal incontinence
  • Laxatives-If chronic constipation is causing bowel incontinence, a mild laxative, such as milk of magnesia, may help restore normal bowel movements
  • Stool softeners-Stool-softening medication can help prevent stool impaction
  • Dietary changes-What you eat and drink can affect stool consistency. Making some adjustments to your diet may help you gain better control over your bowel movements. For example, if chronic constipation is causing your problem, drinking plenty of fluids and eating fiber-rich foods may help. If it's diarrhea that's contributing to your condition, eating high-fiber foods that add bulk to your stools may be recommended
  • Surgery-This option is only used when other treatments have failed to bring relief or if there is an underlying condition causing the problem that requires surgery.