Fecal incontinence is when a person is not able to control bowel movements.
Types of fecal incontinence are:
The rectum is the last part of the large intestine. It holds onto stool until it is ready to pass through the anal canal. Nerves in the rectum send signals to the brain when it is full. This creates the urge to pass stool. Stool moves into the anal canal to the anal sphincter. The muscles of the sphincter control the passage of stool out of the body. Fecal incontinence happens when there is a problem with this process.
Causes may be:
This problem is more common in older adults. It is also more common in women. Other things that may raise the risk are:
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The main symptom is not being able to control the passage of solid or liquid stool.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
Images may be taken to look for an underlying cause. This can be done with:
Anorectal manometry may be done to check the pressure of the anal canal.
Underlying causes will be treated. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. More than one treatment may be needed. Choices are:
People who are not helped by other methods may need procedures or surgery. Choices are:
There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Canadian Society of Intestinal Research
Bharucha AE, Dunivan G, et al. Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Classification of Fecal Incontinence: State of the Science Summary for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Workshop. Am J Gastroenterol. 2015 Jan;110(1):127-136.
Bowel control problems (fecal incontinence). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/bowel-control-problems-fecal-incontinence. Accessed November 28, 2017.
Fecal incontinence in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/fecal-incontinence-in-adults. Accessed February 11, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 2/11/2021