Few things are as embarrassing as not being able to contain gas or stool. It can have a huge impact on your social life, not to mention your own self-esteem. Many feel they are the only ones suffering from this problem, but this is far from the truth!
What is fecal incontinence?
Fecal incontinence or leakage is an involuntary loss of gas, mucus, solid or liquid stool. It is a very common problem – recent studies report that more than 10% of the adult population in the US experience this condition. And between 25 and 45 million people in the US suffer from the condition known as IBS, Irritated Bowel Syndrome, 2 out of 3 being female.* Yet we seldom talk about it openly.
Why does this leakage occur?
Fecal incontinence can be caused by many things. It can be due to damage to the anal sphincters from childbirth or surgery, chronic diarrhea, malformations or diseases such as spinal cord injuries, MS, Parkinson's, spina bifida or diabetes type 1.
Age, urinary incontinence, IBS and chronic diarrhea are known risk factors for bowel accidents and disturbing soiling of clothes.
Decreased quality of life
Fecal incontinence can have an enormous impact on your life. It may seem most embarrassing to have an accident in front of others, which is why people living with this condition often experience feelings of fear and depression. This in turn may lead to isolation. It may also restrict your social activities, work life opportunities, travel habits, exercise habits and intimate relations.
As a consequence it could affect your quality of life. But even if the situation is difficult, or feels desperate even, there are means to manage the symptoms:
Increased or decreased fiber intake. Both constipation and diarrhea can cause fecal incontinence.
Medication may be the solution to chronic diarrhea, which is a common cause for bowel accidents.
Pelvic floor training
Exercise is a good method to improve a week pelvic floor musculature.
Pads and diapers protect clothes and enhances the feeling of being secure. Barrier protection can also be used in combination with other treatments.
TAI means evacuation of stool by introducing water in the rectum. It is a safe and effective method for emptying the bowel in a predictable way, to prevent constipation and fecal incontinence.
Anal sphincter repair
Injection of agents to make damaged anal sphincter muscles more bulky or surgical repair can make them work better and prevent leakage.
Sacral nerve stimulation
In some cases, stimulation of the sacral nerve can make the bowel function better. This is done via an implant which stimulates the nerve.
If there are no other choices, an end colostomy can be done. This means it is necessary to wear bags to collect the stool.
It can take a while to find a solution that works, but once you do, life will change for the better. It is important to discuss your problems with a healthcare professional even if it feels embarrassing. Chances are good there is a solution to manage your fecal incontinence and secure your independence, making your life work again.