Bowel incontinence is the term that refers to the involuntary loss of gas, liquid stool or solid stool. If it is the loss of liquid stool or gas, it is called minor incontinence. When it involves the loss of solid stool, it is known as bowel incontinence.
Bowel incontinence can be a leakage of stool that occurs once in a while as you are passing gas. Or, it can be a complete loss of control of your bowel movements.
Bowel incontinence affects over 5.5 million people in the United States. This figure represents anywhere from 2 to 7% of the general population. The actual incidence may be much higher because many people are embarrassed and ashamed to talk about bowel incontinence, even with their doctor.
Men and women are affected equally by minor bowel incontinence. However, women are two times more likely than men to acknowledge major bowel incontinence.
Bowel incontinence is found most often in older adults. Almost half of all nursing home residents are affected by bowel incontinence.
Bowel incontinence may have a devastating effect on your life. It may undermine your self-confidence, cause you great anxiety, prevent you from working and bring about social isolation by causing you not to want to participate in any social activities.
There are several different disorders that can cause bowel incontinence. Some of these include:
- Abnormalities of your pelvic floor muscles and nerves
- Muscle damage to your anal sphincter
- Loss of the ability of your rectum to stretch and accommodate stool
- Cancer of the anus or rectum
- Surgery that involves your anus and/or rectum
- Chronic abuse of laxatives
- A loss of muscle strength that comes with advancing age
- Damage to the nerves that control rectal sensation or your anal sphincter.
Bowel incontinence is evidenced by the fact that you are not able to get to the toilet in time to prevent an accident. Another sign or symptom of this condition is that you cannot control gas or stools, liquid or solid, from your bowels. You may also have other bowel difficulties along with your bowel incontinence. Some of these are:
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal cramps