How To Prevent Bathroom Accidents

Concerned Caucasian woman sitting on sofa
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One of the most distressing of all human experiences is the experience of a soiling accident. The smell, the mess, the embarrassment - certainly something that you would not want to go through more than once if you could help it. In may provide some sense of solace to know that such accidents are not as rare as you might think. In fact, it is estimated that at least 5 to 15 percent of the population deal with fecal incontinence, the official diagnostic label for the symptom of soiling accidents.

This number may be a low estimate, since many people do not tell their doctors about their symptoms. Here you will learn what might cause soiling accidents and what you can do to prevent them.

What Causes Bathroom Accidents

There are a variety of things that might cause you to have a bathroom accident. Such accidents occur when your anal sphincter is unable to contain stool matter until you are sitting on a toilet. This could happen due to a severe or urgent episode of diarrhea, in which the urgency or simply the looseness of the stool overwhelms the control of the sphincter muscles. Soiling episodes can also occur during an episode of constipation due to loose stool leaking around the hard impacted stool. Ongoing incontinence may be due to a structural or functional problem with the sphincter muscles.

Your risk of having bathroom accidents goes up as you age or following childbirth. Having inflammatory bowel disease or undergoing radiation in the area can also lead to fecal incontinence.

Fecal incontinence may also occur as part of other chronic system-wide illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis.

Talk to Your Doctor

Please do not be too embarrassed to talk to your doctor! Doctors are trained to deal with all sorts of human symptoms. Discussing the issue with your doctor will ensure that you get a proper diagnosis, just in case your incontinence is a sign of some sort of illness.

Your doctor can also help you to develop a plan to address the symptom or possibly discuss with you some medical treatments that might be of help.

Watch What You Eat

If you find that you are experiencing soiling accidents on a regular basis, you may want to start a food diary to see if there are some dietary triggers that might be contributing to the problem. Possible culprits include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy foods
  • Foods containing fructose, including some fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Foods containing high levels of FODMAPs

You may also want to make sure that you are taking in adequate amounts of dietary fiber to try to keep your stools both soft and firm and thus easier for your sphincter muscles to contain.

Try to Keep Yourself Calm

Once you have had a soiling accident, or if you frequently experience diarrhea episodes with strong feelings of urgency, it is quite understandable to be anxious about the possibility of experiencing an accident. However, anxiety may actually increase your chances of this happening, due to the close connection between your body's natural stress response. Luckily, there are things that you can do to "turn off" this response and to quiet your body so that it continence control can be held until you are on a toilet.

Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and calming self-talk can help you to quiet your body rather than escalate the sense of urgency.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

One of the best ways to reduce anxiety about having accidents is to have a plan in place to cover all contingencies. Before venturing out, make sure that you know where you will be able to access a restroom should the need arise. Tell any traveling companions about your unique health needs, so they can help to facilitate a quick pit stop.

If you have had a problem with soiling in the past and think there may be a delay in your ability to get to a restroom, pack or wear an adult sanitary product, and if necessary, bring along a change of clothes.

Knowing that you are prepared for an unexpected episode will go a long way toward reducing the panic that can contribute to the sense of urgency.

Have a Little Faith

If you have only had one soiling accident and your doctor has reassured you that you do not have a serious illness or physical damage to your sphincter, the odds are that there will not be a repeat episode. You may be thinking that those odds remain high because you often get to the toilet "just in the the nick of time." These experiences do not necessarily mean that you would have had an accident. More likely, your rectum has done what it has been trained to do since you were little. It is doing its job of holding on to fecal matter until you are sitting on the toilet. At that point, it lets go. So for some well-needed peace of mind, remind yourself to have faith that your rectal muscles will most likely do their job and keep things contained for you.


Benezech A, Bouvier M, Vitton V. "Faecal incontinence: Current knowledges and perspectives" World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology 2016;7(2):59–71.

Wald A. "Update on the Management of Fecal Incontinence for the Gastroenterologist" Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2016;12(3):155–164.

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