Fecal Incontinence

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • Because so many people suffer from urinary incontinence, it has become a large focus of my work as a continence promoter and educator.


    Over the years I’ve worked in this arena I’ve had numerous people approach me to say “if you think urinary incontinence is embarrassing, you should think about people with fecal incontinence.” While I don’t know the embarrassment of fecal incontinence first-hand, it has certainly touched my life deeply. It is, in fact, the real reason why I chose this field of work. My grandmother lived with fecal incontinence for as long as I can remember. She was a lively, active woman, and yet we always had to plan visits around her incontinence. She could never be far away from a restroom, which severely limited the places we could visit together. I saw personally the embarrassment she felt living with such a stigmatized health condition.
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    Fecal incontinence, also called bowel incontinence, is when stool (you know- poop) unexpectedly leaks from your rectum. Sometimes you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, but can’t reach a bathroom in time. The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 5.5 million American have fecal incontinence. As with urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence affects people of all ages, races, and both sexes. However, it is more common in women than in men, and it affects the elderly more often than younger adults (although it is not a normal part of aging).

    Some causes for fecal incontinence include constipation, regular and long-term use of laxatives, diarrhea, and muscle and/or nerve damage due to childbirth or other trauma to the pelvic floor. Bowel incontinence can be very uncomfortable to talk about; however it is important for the sake of your health that you speak with a knowledgeable medical professional. Your exam will probably start with simply talking about your condition. The doctor will want to know how often you experience fecal incontinence, and when it has happened. He or she might also ask about family history. The doctor will also probably want to do a physical exam, and possibly additional tests. These questions and tests might be embarrassing, but there are treatment options your doctor may be able to recommend after a thorough exam. Remind yourself of life before incontinence, and think about the improved quality of life you’ll enjoy with better treatment or management. And remember that you’re not alone; there are 5 million and 499,999 others in American alone, and my very own grandma is one of them.
Published On: August 24, 2006