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How do I Treat Bowel Incontinence?

By J.L. Drede
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bowel incontinence can be caused by many different factors, and the first step to treating the condition is to find out it's cause. Fecal incontinence can strike anyone at any age, although it is more commonly found in older adults. However, it is not considered to be a typical part or aging.

Both constipation and diarrhea can cause stool incontinence. The former usually leads to the latter, as chronic stool backup can lead to the muscles of the anus and intestines weakening over time. The most common cause of constipation is a poor diet. In this case, treatment for incontinence can be as simple as a adding fiber to a diet. This will help thicken the stool and regulate bowel movements. Other diet treatments that can eliminate fecal incontinence include cutting down on dairy, caffeine and alcohol. All three can upset the stomach and lead to irregularity. If diarrhea continues to be an issue after changes in diet then medication may be the solution. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications exist that help to thicken stool.

Other medications may be leading to bowel incontinence, this is especially true for older adults. Prescription pain killers, narcotics, sedatives and antacids can all contribute to fecal incontinence. If medication is the cause for the incontinence, then a change in dosage amounts or a change in medication altogether can sometimes help alleviate the problem. A doctor should be consulted before any changes in a medication regiment are made.

Muscle damage of the anal sphincter is another common cause of bowel incontinence. This can happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes child birth can cause it, as can any traumatic injury or surgery to the area. Damage to the anal sphincter may not be evident at first, and incontinence as a result of it may sometimes not manifest itself until years later. Surgery to repair the damage is the usually the only treatment option in these cases. If the muscle cannot be repaired, a muscle transplant can be an option. This involves removing a muscle from the inner thigh and placing it around the sphincter. This puts a working muscle in the sphincter and can help restore control. A similar treatment for bowel incontinence is an artificial bowel sphincter. These are inflated cuffs that block stool from leaking. Bowel movements are made by deflating the cuff, which re-inflates automatically after each movement.

If all other treatments for bowel incontinence fail, then most doctors will resort to fecal diversion. This surgery attaches the large intestine to an opening that is made along the wall of the abdomen. This opening is called a colostomy. Instead of traveling to the rectum, stool goes through this hole, which is connected to bag. Fecal diversion treatments are not always permanent, and sometimes they are only used until the rectum or sphincter are repaired.

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