Fecal incontinence

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements, causing stool (feces) to leak unexpectedly from the rectum. Also called bowel incontinence, fecal incontinence ranges from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control.

Common causes of fecal incontinence include diarrhea, constipation, and muscle or nerve damage. The muscle or nerve damage may be associated with aging or with giving birth.

Whatever the cause, fecal incontinence can be embarrassing. But don't shy away from talking to your doctor. Treatments are available that can improve fecal incontinence and your quality of life.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Most adults experience fecal incontinence only during an occasional bout of diarrhea. But some people have recurring or chronic fecal incontinence. They:

  • Can't control the passage of gas or stools, which may be liquid or solid, from their bowels
  • May not be able to make it to the toilet in time

For some people, including children, fecal incontinence is a relatively minor problem, limited to occasional soiling of their underwear. For others, the condition can be devastating due to a complete lack of bowel control.

Fecal incontinence may be accompanied by other bowel problems, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Gas and bloating

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you or your child develops fecal incontinence. Often, new mothers and other adults are reluctant to tell their doctors about fecal incontinence. But treatments are available, and the sooner you are evaluated, the sooner you may find some relief from your symptoms.

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