Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowels. When you feel
the urge to have a bowel movement, you may not be able to hold it until you
can get to a toilet. Or stool may leak from the rectum unexpectedly.
More than 5.5 million Americans have fecal incontinence. It affects people
of all ages—children as well as adults. Fecal incontinence is more common in
women than in men and more common in older adults than in younger ones. It is
not, however, a normal part of aging.
Fecal incontinence can have several causes:
- damage to the anal sphincter muscles
- damage to the nerves of the anal sphincter muscles or the rectum
- loss of storage capacity in the rectum
- pelvic floor dysfunction
The doctor will ask health-related questions and do a physical exam and
possibly other medical tests.
- Anal manometry checks the tightness of the anal sphincter and its
ability to respond to signals, as well as the sensitivity and function of
- Anorectal ultrasonography evaluates the structure of the anal
- Proctography, also known as defecography, shows how much stool the
rectum can hold, how well the rectum holds it, and how well the rectum can
evacuate the stool.
- Proctosigmoidoscopy allows doctors to look inside the rectum for signs
of disease or other problems that could cause fecal incontinence, such as
inflammation, tumors, or scar tissue.
- Anal electromyography tests for nerve damage, which is often associated
with obstetric injury.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, USA.