What Is Fecal Incontinence?

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Fecal incontinence is a loss of bowel control, which leads to involuntary passage of stool, causing a "bathroom accident." Fecal incontinence can be 'passive fecal incontinence', in which stool is passed without the person's knowledge, or 'urge fecal incontinence', in which the person is aware of the need to get to a bathroom, but leakage occurs before arriving at a toilet. The amount of incontinence experienced may range from a small amount of feces being passed, or may constitute an entire bowel movement.

Fecal incontinence can have a significant negative impact on a person's quality of life, as people restrict their activities for fear of having a soiling accident. It is estimated to affect up to 8% of all adults. Your risk of experiencing incontinence increases as you get older.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence occurs when there is an injury to, or a dysfunction in, the nerves and muscles in the area of the anus and rectum. Injury to or dysfunction of the internal and external sphincters often play a predominant role causing incontinence.

There are a wide variety of health problems that can contribute to the symptom of fecal incontinence:

  • Rectal prolapse
  • Rectocele (bulging of the wall of the rectum into the vagina)
  • Stress or a frightening experience

Physical inactivity is in itself a risk factor for the development of fecal incontinence. It is estimated that almost half of all people who live in nursing homes experience fecal incontinence.

Read more about causes of fecal incontinence...

Diagnosis of Fecal Incontinence

Your doctor may diagnose fecal incontinence based solely on your symptom report. However, there are some diagnostic tests that can provide your doctor with more information as to what might be going wrong:

Treatment Options for Fecal Incontinence

Your doctor will probably advise you to increase the amount of fiber in your diet and may recommend the use of a fiber supplement.

Other treatment options include:

Read more about the treatment of fecal incontinence...

Also known as:

  • Bowel incontinence
  • Faecal incontinence


"Bowel Incontinence" Medline Plus Accessed February 7, 2016.

Duelund-Jakobsen, J. et. al. "Management of patients with faecal incontinence" Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology 2016 9:86–97.

"Fecal Incontinence" NIDDK website Accessed February 7, 2016.

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