Fecal incontinence is when a person is not able to control bowel movements.
Types of fecal incontinence are:
Urge incontinence—Being unable to delay having a bowel movement
Passive incontinence—Passing stool without feeling the need to get to a bathroom
Anal incontinence—Passing stool or gas due to problems with the muscles of the anus
Overflow incontinence—Leaking liquid stool when there is a large mass of stool blocking the rectum
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.
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
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