The Dirty Truth About Fecal Incontinence

Nervous about fecal incontinence

What is it?

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements. There are two groups of muscles in the wall of the anus and rectum that are responsible for holding stool, and just like other muscles in your body, they can become injured or weakened. When this happens, you may begin to see evidence of fecal smearing or fecal incontinence: oozing after you’ve gone to the bathroom, rawness from not being able to get completely clean, or soiled underwear.

Is Fecal Incontinence Common?

Fecal incontinence, or bowel incontinence, affects roughly 5.5 million adult Americans. Fear of embarrassment often hinders open discussions about the issue, but this problem is both common and treatable. Many people suffering from bowel incontinence have slowly become hyper-vigilant in their prevention of embarrassing accidents. Here are a few indicators that you might need to seek help:

  • Do you find yourself hurrying to the restroom when you have the urge to have a bowel movement, worried that you might not make it?
  • Have you thought you had time to make it home to the restroom only to find staining or smearing in your underwear, or even worse, actual poop in your pants?
  • Have you had to leave a social gathering (or not even go) because you are worried about having an accident?
  • Do you keep close watch over what you eat to try to determine if this is a day when your bowels will be ok?

These small life adjustments can manifest over time without the sufferer realizing that the loss of bowel control has begun to interrupt their life, or even take it over.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

There are a lot of different reasons someone may start to have issues with controlling their bowels. It may start as a natural part of aging, wherein you lose elasticity of the sphincter or muscle tone of the pelvic floor. It could also be caused by damage to the area from trauma, an episiotomy, a tear during natural childbirth, post-op after a hysterectomy, or other pelvic surgery. Sometimes the muscles can become less coordinated because of other medical conditions, like intestinal diseases (Crohn’s, Ciliac’s disease) or radiation of the tissue. Regardless of the cause, the impact is the same – life is disrupted and it starts to take control over your daily plans.

How To Treat Fecal Incontinence

If you are feeling like bowel leakage is controlling your life (instead of the other way around), it is worth consulting a pelvic physical therapist to see is pelvic floor dysfunction may be contributing to your symptoms. At Smart Body Physical Therapy, our physical therapists are experts in treating pelvic floor dysfunction. If your evaluation reveals treatment is indicated, we will help you retrain the pelvic floor muscles. We work to improve coordination and/or strength of the pelvic floor by using tools such as perianal biofeedback, neuromuscular re-education via electrical stimulation, and pelvic girdle strengthening exercises in order to better support the pelvic organs. Our pelvic health physical therapists will also assist with bowel training (Yes, that means we teach you how to poop!) because sometimes our bodies forget or develop bad habits that disrupt the natural process of defecation, and sometimes it was never actually taught properly in the first place. While it may be difficult to discuss such sensitive matters with your healthcare provider, we have been very intentional in making sure Smart Body Physical Therapy provides a comfortable and discreet environment for discussion and treatment. Don’t just take back control of your bowels, let us show you how to Savor Life again (or perhaps for the first time ever)!

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