Sign Up For FREE
Health After 50 Alerts!

We value your privacy and will never rent your email address

Health After 50

Treating Fecal Incontinence

Comments (0)

Fecal incontinence (the involuntary loss of bowel control) affects nearly 18 million Americans. Although it is a relatively common problem in older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. The inability to control your bowels can lead to embarrassment and cause you to avoid social situations, but fecal incontinence is often treatable with medication, lifestyle measures or surgical repair of the damaged sphincter muscles. In addition, some people can benefit from an implanted device called an artificial sphincter. 

Treating fecal incontinence  

Treatment of fecal incontinence depends on the cause and severity of the condition and may include dietary changes, bowel training, drugs or surgery.

Dietary changes. Because it is difficult for the anal sphincter to handle large amounts of waste material, changes in your diet may be necessary to make the stool firmer and more compact. Foods that thicken the stool include rice, bananas, yogurt and cheese. Increasing fiber intake—to 21 g daily if you’re a woman over age 50 and to 30 g daily if you’re a man over age 50—by consuming more whole grains, fruits and vegetables also may help. Alcohol and caffeine may cause diarrhea and should be eliminated. Some people are unable to digest lactose (a sugar found in dairy products) or food additives and flavorings like sorbitol and nutmeg. Because improper digestion of these substances could contribute to diarrhea and fecal incontinence, they should be avoided as well.

Bowel training. Some people with fecal incontinence need to relearn how to control their bowels. One way to retrain the bowels is through biofeedback, which uses a computer to monitor muscle contractions as you learn exercises to strengthen the rectum and pelvic muscles. Stronger muscles can help retain stool. If fecal incontinence is caused by constipation, your doctor may recommend starting a routine of having a bowel movement at the same time daily.

Medication. Drugs may be used if fecal incontinence is caused by diarrhea. Imodium A-D is an anti-diarrheal medication that thickens the stool and also increases the strength of the rectal muscles. Other medications help treat fecal incontinence in other ways, for example, by decreasing intestinal secretions, contracting the muscle that closes the rectum or slowing the movement of stool through the bowel.

External incontinence devices. If you’re unable to regain fecal continence, you can wear an external device to collect any leaking stool. These prescription devices, available at medical supply stores and some pharmacies, typically consist of a drainable pouch attached to an adhesive wafer. The hole in the center of the wafer is placed over the rectum to allow stool to pass through. These devices can remain in place for 24 hours, but they must be changed if any stool leakage occurs.

Surgical repair. If fecal incontinence is caused by injury to the pelvic floor, anal canal or anal sphincter, surgery may be performed to repair the problem. For example, damaged muscles in the anus may be replaced with muscle from the leg or arm.

Artificial sphincter. If your anal sphincter muscles are not capable of holding in stool, an artificial anal sphincter can be surgically implanted. This sphincter consists of a fluid-filled cuff that surrounds the anal canal, a pressure-regulating balloon in the anal canal, and a control pump located just under the skin. Normally, the cuff is full of fluid, which squeezes the anal canal closed. When you need to have a bowel movement, you squeeze the pump several times; the fluid then drains from the cuff into the balloon, and stool can pass through the open anal canal. After the bowel movement, the cuff automatically refills with fluid from the balloon.

Colostomy. Severe fecal incontinence that doesn’t respond to treatment may require a colostomy, in which the large intestine is connected to the abdominal wall. Instead of entering the rectum, stool goes directly from the intestine into a special bag on the outside of the body. 


Posted in Colon Cancer on April 17, 2016

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

Notify Me

Would you like us to inform you when we post new Colon Cancer Health Alerts?

Post a Comment


Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Scientific American Health After 50 or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.

Post a Comment

Already a subscriber?


Forgot your password?

New to Health After 50?

Register to submit your comments.

(example: [email protected])


Forgot Password?

Scientific American White Paper: Arthritis Cover

2016 Arthritis White Paper

Arthritis now affects millions of Americans. The Scientific American Consumer Health Arthritis White Paper provides in-depth knowledge on the most recent breakthroughs concerning the most common forms of arthritis-osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, it includes two other rheumatic diseases: fibromyalgia syndrome and bursitis, and also ankylosing spondylitis, gout, and lyme disease.

Click here to read more or order

Health Topic Pages