Fecal incontinence is the loss of control over the bowels. Some people may have uncontrolled release of just gas and liquid stool. Others have no control over the release of solid waste. Many people with this condition also have trouble controlling the release of urine.

This condition can lead to issues such as depression or isolation. If you think you have this condition, contact your doctor promptly.


Women are more likely to suffer from this than men. Many cases are a result of an injury to the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support pelvic organs. Injury can happen through pregnancy or delivery . Other causes include:

  • Constipation
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Congenital abnormality—condition present from birth
  • Trauma or injury to anal sphincter or its nerves—the healthy sphincter opens and closes to control the release of fecal material
  • Diarrhea
  • Scarring of the rectum from irritable bowel syndrome , radiation , or surgery

Rectal Prolapse

Rectal prolapse
The rectum falls through the anal opening.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of fecal incontinence. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Female
  • History of episiotomy
  • Older age
  • Diseases of the nervous system (eg, stroke )
  • Other risk factors thought to contribute to fecal incontinence include:
    • Diabetes
    • Depression
    • Lack of physical activity
    • Being overweight


If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to fecal incontinence. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • An inability to control bowel movements


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may send you to a specialist such as a:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • Colorectal surgeon
  • Proctologist

Tests may include the following:

  • Anorectal manometry—test that uses a catheter to check pressures in the anal canal while resting and squeezing
  • Pudendal nerve terminal motor latency (PNTML)—test that uses an electrode in the anal canal to evaluate how well the nerves are working
  • Endoanal ultrasound—test that uses sound waves to make a picture; used to detect any injury to anal sphincter muscles
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy—test that uses thin, lighted tube inside the rectum; used to examine the rectum and lower colon for injury or disease
  • Defecography—test that uses x-rays and dye to look at the bowel and how it functions


Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:


Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. You may be referred to a nutritionist for diet ideas. Examples of diet changes include:

  • Eating smaller meals more frequently
  • Avoiding foods that trigger diarrhea (spicy food or foods with caffeine are common culprits)

You may be asked to keep track of your diet and incontinence episodes. This will help identify patterns that can be changed.

Bowel Training

Your doctor may suggest using biofeedback . This method can retrain your body’s responses. A bowel movement schedule can also train your bowels.


Surgical procedures may be used to treat this condition such as:

  • An overlapping sphincteroplasty to rebuild the anal sphincter
  • Injecting bulking agents, radiofrequency therapy, and/or nerve stimulation
  • Inserting an artificial bowel sphincter which you can open and close as needed
  • A colostomy (done in severe cases)—disconnects the colon and brings the end through an opening in the abdomen


To help reduce your chance of getting fecal incontinence, take the following steps:

  • Prevent constipation with a diet high in fiber and adequate fluids.
  • Pay attention to your diet and avoid foods that trigger diarrhea.
  • Try to maintain a regular bowel movement schedule.
  • Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble with diarrhea or constipation.