Bowel incontinence - Overview
Uncontrollable passage of feces; Loss of bowel control; Fecal incontinence; Incontinence - bowel
Definition of Bowel incontinence:
Bowel incontinence is the loss of bowel control, leading to an involuntary passage of stool. This can range from occasionally leaking a small amount of stool and passing gas, to completely losing control of bowel movements.
Urinary incontinence, a separate topic, is the inability to control the passage of urine.
Among people over age 65, most surveys find that women experience bowel incontinence more often than men. One to three out of every 1,000 women report a loss of bowel control at least once per month.
To hold stool and maintain continence, the rectum, anus, pelvic muscles, and nervous system must function normally. You must also have the physical and mental ability to recognize and respond to the urge to have a bowel movement.
- Chronic constipation, causing the muscles of the anus and intestines to stretch and weaken, and leading to diarrhea and stool leakage (see: encopresis)
- Chronic laxative use
- Colectomy or bowel surgery
- Decreased awareness of sensation of rectal fullness
- Emotional problems
- Gynecological, prostate, or rectal surgery
- Injury to the anal muscles due to childbirth (in women)
- Nerve or muscle damage (from trauma, tumor, or radiation)
- Severe diarrhea that overwhelms the ability to control passage of stool
- Severe hemorrhoids or rectal prolapse
- Stress of unfamiliar environment
- Reviewed last on: 11/23/2010
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Nelson H. Diseases of the rectum and anus. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 148.
Rao SSC. Fecal incontinence. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 17.
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