WHAT IS FECAL INCONTINENCE?
Fecal incontinence (also called anal or bowel incontinence) is the impaired ability to control the passage of gas or stool. This is a common problem, but often not discussed due to embarrassment. Failure to seek treatment can result in social isolation and a negative impact on quality of life.
There are many causes of fecal incontinence such as injury, disease and age.
Childbirth-related injury: This is the most common cause, resulting from a tear in the anal muscles. The nerves controlling the anal muscles may also be injured, which can lead to incontinence. Some injuries may be detected right after childbirth; however, many go unnoticed until they cause problems later in life. Since it may be years after giving birth, childbirth is often not recognized as the cause of the problem.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild cases may only involve difficulty controlling gas. Severe cases can lead to an inability to control liquid and formed stools. A patient may have a feeling of urgency or experience stool leakage due to frequent liquid stools or diarrhea.
If there is bleeding with lack of bowel control, consult your physician as soon as possible. This may indicate inflammation within the colon and rectum, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, a rectal tumor or rectal prolapse. All of these conditions require prompt evaluation by a physician.
An initial discussion of symptoms with your physician will help determine the degree of incontinence and the effect on your life. Possible underlying factors are often found during a review of your medical history, such as:
A physical examination of the anal region should be performed. An exam may easily identify an obvious injury to the anal muscles. Your physician will decide if tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis. An ultrasound probe may be used in the anal area, which provides photographs of potentially injured anal muscles. Other tests may be required to assess the function of muscles and nerves that help control bowel movements.
There are nonsurgical and surgical treatment options that vary based on the cause and severity of the problem. Your colon and rectal surgeon will discuss different treatment methods and help you decide what approach is best for you.
There are several surgical options for the treatment of fecal incontinence. Keep in mind that surgery is not the right choice for every patient.