Bowel Incontinence

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What is Bowel Incontinence?

Bowel incontinence, also known as faecal incontinence, is when you accidentally leak solid or liquid stool (poo).  It can occur because of urgency, or some people have no sensation before experiencing soiling or leakage of poo.  For some, leakage of poo can occur when passing wind.

Statistics suggest that 1:10 people will be affected by this at some point in their life.  It can affect people of any age but is more common in elderly people.  It is also more common in women than men.

Bowel incontinence may occur in isolation or it can be a symptom associated with other health problems. Causes might include the side effect of some medications, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, damage to or weakness of the muscles or nerves of the pelvic floor, anus or rectum, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It can also occur as a result of nerve damage due to brain or spinal cord injury or other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis.

Symptoms of Bowel Incontinence?

Symptoms of bowel incontinence can include the urgency to poo, soiling and leakage.

Sometimes bowel incontinence can be an isolated incident but if it happens more frequently it could be a sign of an underlying health condition or damage to the muscles around the anus. Women are affected by accidental bowel leakage twice as often as men.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is when you are passing stools (poo) less frequently than usual for you.  Stools can be difficult to pass (you strain), and are hard, small, or dry. Other symptoms associated with constipation might include bloating, abdominal pain, and a feeling of incomplete emptying.

Constipation can affect people of all ages. It is estimated that around 1 in every 7 adults have constipation at any one time. It affects twice as many women as men and is more common in pregnancy, after giving birth, and in older people.

There are many possible causes of constipation which can include a problem with your diet and fluid intake.  It can also occur as a side effect of some medications.  Other causes include poor toilet routine, stress, anxiety and depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anatomical problems within the pelvic floor such as a prolapse or rectocele, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), spinal cord injury or other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis. Sometimes no obvious cause is found.

What Treatment Options are Available?

Treatment or management of bowel incontinence or constipation can include dietary and fluid advice. Incontinence products might be recommended and can include anal inserts, pads, or trans anal irrigation (TAI).  There is also medication available.

It is important that you speak to a healthcare professional who can advise you of the best treatment plan to help your symptoms, especially if you have noticed a change in your normal habit that has continued for 3 weeks or more. They can offer specialist recommendations. Many people suffer silently due to the stigma and embarrassment associated with the condition but there is help available.

When to Seek Help?

It is important to get medical advice if you experience constipation or bowel incontinence so that you can access treatment and help for your symptoms.

If you notice any sudden changes in your bowel habit that has continued for 3 weeks or more or you notice blood in your poo see your GP.


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