What Causes Fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence is a condition,
with many potential causes. 
Fecal incontinence occurs because of an underlying disease or illness. It is considered a condition, and has many potential causes. Figuring out what the cause is can help you to find a treatment for it. 

At a glance, the causes of fecal incontinence are:
  • Chronic constipation
  • Chronic laxative use
  • Colostomy 
  • Bowel, gynecological, prostate, or rectal surgery
  • Decreased awareness of sensation of rectal fullness
  • Disease
  • Functional disability or abnormality
  • Emotional problems
  • Injury to the anal muscles due to childbirth 
  • Nerve or muscle damage 
  • Severe diarrhea, hemorrhoids, or rectal prolapse
  • Stress of unfamiliar environment
Let’s take a closer look at some of these causes, and why they lead to loss of bowel control:

The rectum, anus, pelvic muscles, and nervous system must function normally in order for the body to remain continent and hold stool. Any interruption to normal function can lead to incontinence and stool leakage.

There are some more common causes than others. For example, constipation leads to incontinence because it causes the muscles of the anus and intestines to stretch and weaken. When then happens, diarrhea can occur, and stool leakage is more likely to happen. People with hemorrhoids, rectal fistula, rectal prolapse and poor hygiene may have light fecal incontinence, or stool seepage. Other causes include chronic diarrhea, parasite infections, and laxative abuse.

Surgery can often lead to incontinence, especially bowel surgery, as it may damage to muscles and nerves. The same problem (damage to muscles and nerves) may occur in women at the time of vaginal childbirth.

Neurologic diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and spina bifida can be potential causes of fecal incontinence. This is typically a functional disability, where the body signals and nerves are not coordinating, and the individual is not getting the message they need to go. Complications of diabetes can also cause nerve damage, which can cause incontinence.

Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis) and irritable bowel disease may be classified as fecal incontinence and cause stool leakage and other bowel control problems.

If you are suffering from light stool leakage, or total incontinence, talk to your doctor about options. Often dietary changes, medication, and other non-invasive treatment options are available and can improve symptoms or eliminate the problem entirely. In some instances a surgery, medical device, or other procedure may be necessary to reverse the problem. The best way to find out is to see a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Further Reading: 

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About The CareGiver Partnership. The CareGiver Partnership helps caregivers and their loved ones with answers to their caregiving questions, including information about home health care products and supplies, from our Wisconsin-based team of Product Specialists who are all current or former caregivers. The company’s Web site provides the largest online library of resources on subjects most important to caregivers — from arthritis to assisted living, and Parkinson’s to prostate cancer — as well as access to more than 3,000 home care products for incontinence, skin care, mobility, home safety and daily living aids. The CareGiver Partnership was founded in 2004 by Lynn Wilson of Neenah, Wisc. Visithttp://www.caregiverpartnership.com to learn more or call 1-800-985-1353.


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