Bowel incontinence – time we talk about it

Many people avoid telling their doctor or caregiver about their problems with bowel incontinence. Instead, they might express complaints about things like itching or other continence related issues that are more comfortable to talk about. If you are in a caregiving position, that can be a good thing to bear in mind. In this article, we will outline what bowel incontinence is, along with some of the most common causes and ways to treat it.

Bowel incontinence in short

Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence, is the unintentional loss of stool. For a bowel to function properly and avoid bowel leakage, the nerves and muscles in the rectum and anus work together in a complex system, and when that system fails, bowel incontinence happens.

Bowel incontinence can also happen due to constipation or diarrhea. This is being aware of stool consistency important when treating and managing fecal incontinence.

Common causes

Also, bear in mind is that people are different. A person with frequent leaks may need a different product than someone with incontinence that is more spread out throughout the day.

People experience bowel incontinence for several reasons including: diarrhea, constipation or nerve and muscle damage. Individuals with diseases that affect the central nervous system (for example multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, spina bifida, stroke, etc.) often have constipation or bowel incontinence. This occurs because there is an interruption to the nerve pathways. If the nerves that control the anal sphincter muscles or those that sense stool are damaged it can cause constipation or fecal incontinence.

Many different medications can cause bowel incontinence by affecting bowel function, sphincter tone or cognitive awareness. Bowel incontinence can also happen if you have inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Both Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis cause diarrhea, which in turn can cause leaks. Loose stool and urgency from the bowel can cause even the strongest pelvic floor to leak if the toilet is not close enough.

Also, just falling ill can affect bowel continence. An elderly person with a medical disease might be immobile, cognitively impaired and/or experience a loss of appetite and difficulties with drinking enough fluids. All these factors could increase the risk of incontinence.


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Constipation

Chronic constipation can cause a hard mass of stool to form in the rectum, which then becomes too hard to pass. This can cause the muscles of the anus and rectum to stretch and weaken, the weakened muscles can prevent the anal sphincters from closing tight, resulting in fecal leakage.

Diarrhea

Fecal leakage during diarrhea is usually not a sign of a chronic state of incontinence, but it is harder to keep loose stool in the rectum than regular stool.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids can keep the anus from closing completely, which can allow stool to leak out.

How is bowel incontinence treated?

The bowel incontinence treatment would depend on the underlying cause of the problem, but the purpose is always to regulate the bowel movements, and make necessary changes to get proper consistency of the feces.

Avoid constipation

Exercise, drink a lot of water and add more high-fiber foods to the diet.

Treat the diarrhea

Treating the cause of diarrhea, which can be caused by an intestinal infection, may actually take away the fecal incontinence too. For example, make sure to review the medications to see how they affect the bowel. Too many laxatives can be what’s causing diarrhea.

Strengthening the pelvic floor

Training the muscles of the pelvic floor through Kegel exercises might also be helpful, as well as finding a correct toilet posture to facilitate bowel emptying. Surgery may be an alternative if no other treatment works.

Don’t forget the skin care

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Prolonged contact with fecal enzymes and microorganisms is a key risk factor for incontinence associated dermatitis (inflammation and/or erosion of the skin caused by exposure by urine or feces). Feces contain harsh enzymes and corrosive compounds that can quickly degrade the skin. Therefore, if an accident has occurred, prompt removal of feces is important. Clean the skin gently with proper products for perineal care and put on a protective barrier cream if necessary.

What can you do for fecal incontinence?

Try and support the person you take care of to make sure the problem gets addressed. Doctors handle these issues every day, and it’s important that you get the right diagnosis. Once you know what is causing the problem it is easier to find proper treatment.

Also, bear in mind is that people are different. A person with frequent leaks may need a different product than someone with incontinence that is more spread out throughout the day. Make sure you find a product that really does the job. Finding a toilet routine that works is highly important, and make sure you remove the fecal leakage promptly. Perform proper skin care and use a barrier cream for extra protection.

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