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Bowel Control

Bowel control issues, also known as bowel incontinence, is the inability to control bowel movements. It’s estimated that more than 18 million American’s have bowel incontinence.

While bowel leakage is usually not a serious medical problem, it can be both psychologically and socially debilitating.

Many effective treatments can help people with bowel incontinence, including:

  • medicine
  • surgery
  • minimally invasive procedures

Types of bowel incontinence

Chronic constipation occurs in approximately 20 percent of the general population, and because of the close proximity of organs and shared nerve function, this condition can worsen bladder issues. Treatment options for chronic constipation include stool softeners, fiber supplements laxatives and pelvic floor physical therapy.

Fecal incontinence (stool leakage) is one of the most psychologically and socially debilitating conditions and can lead to social isolation, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, and depression. Patients often are too embarrassed to speak to their health care provider about this condition.


What causes bowel incontinence?

Risk factors for developing bowel control issues include:

  • previous vaginal delivery
  • hemorrhoidectomy
  • diabetes
  • stroke
  • spine disorders

Up to 7 percent of the population has this condition. A thorough history and physical exam is important to assess risk factors and structural issues that may lead to incontinence. Specialized testing with anal sphincter ultrasound, anal pressure studies and colon transit studies may be necessary.

Avoiding bowel irritants and medications to prevent constipation and diarrhea are first-line treatments. Pelvic floor physical therapy to strengthen the anal sphincter can improve symptoms. Surgical repair of structural abnormalities such as rectal prolapse and sphincter tears may help. Sacral nerve stimulation is also FDA approved for fecal incontinence as well as urinary incontinence.