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Fecal Incontinence Information

Group of physiciansWhile many people experience fecal incontinence during occasional bouts with diarrhea, this potentially embarrassing condition is a chronic problem for millions of U.S. adults. More common among older adults, bowel control problems involve the inability to control the passing of solid or liquid stool. This can range from an occasional accident while passing gas to a complete loss of control.

There are two common types of fecal incontinence – urge incontinence and passive incontinence. People suffering from urge incontinence are unable to resist the sudden urge to defecate, while passive incontinence sufferers can involuntarily discharge stool or gas without being aware. The causes of bowel control problems can include the following:

  • Injury to the anal sphincter muscles, which can sometimes occur during childbirth
  • Neurological diseases such as stroke and spina bifida, or spinal cord injuries
  • Chronic constipation that causes the anal sphincter muscles to stretch and weaken
  • Anal or rectal surgery that results in muscle or nerve damage
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Hemorrhoids that prevent the anal sphincter muscles from closing completely

Fecal incontinence is usually diagnosed through a physical examination by a physician, who may also decide to perform tests such as a colonoscopy, an anorectal ultrasound, or a proctogram to confirm the diagnosis. The treatment options for fecal incontinence can vary greatly, ranging from dietary changes to ensure a person receives the right amount of fiber to surgery that repairs anal sphincter muscle injuries. Other options include medications to help control diarrhea, bowel training that helps the body acclimate to a regular bowel movement pattern, or nerve stimulation to improve the strength of the anal sphincter muscles.

The physicians at Tampa General Hospital’s Endoscopy Center can diagnose and treat a full range of anal and rectal conditions, including fecal incontinence. TGH was recognized by U.S. News & World Report in 2017-18 as one of America's Best Hospitals in Gastroenterology & GI surgery. To find a gastroenterologist, use Tampa General Hospital’s Physician Finder or call 1-800-833-3627.