What Is Fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence is a common fecal condition which describes the inability to control bowel movements which causes stool to leak unexpectedly. Fecal incontinence can range from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control.

How Does Bowel Control Work?

Normal bowel control involves the muscles in the rectum and anus working together to hold stool in the rectum, alert the body when the rectum is full and to release stool upon elimination.

Causes and Risk Factors of Fecal Incontinence

Fecal or bowel incontinence is more common in middle aged and older adults, and is more prevalent among women due to childbirth which puts additional strain on the pelvic area. Additional risk factors include: nerve damage, dementia and physical disability.

The most common causes of fecal incontinence are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Radiation of the pelvic area
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Muscle damage or physical disability
  • Nerve damage from diabetes or multiple sclerosis

Symptoms of Fecal Incontinence

The typical symptoms of fecal incontinence include the inability to control the need to defecate and may be accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, gas and/or bloating.

Treatments for Fecal Incontinence

There is a wide variety of treatments available for fecal incontinence, including medications, dietary changes, physical therapy, bowel training and nerve stimulation therapy.


Anti-diarrheal and bulk laxative medications are the most commonly prescribed treatments for fecal incontinence as they can assist with firming up the stool and slowing down the bowels.

Dietary Changes

One relatively easy way to address fecal incontinence is through the diet. Adding more fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes will help to add bulk to stools. Drinking plenty of fluids like water throughout the day can help to alleviate constipation.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy and biofeedback techniques can help increase strength in the anal muscles as well as in the pelvic floor muscles.

Bowel Training

The primary goal of bowel training is to establish a schedule for bowel movements at a specific time during the day. This helps to provide more control over the bowels.

Nerve Stimulation

There are two types of nerve stimulation used for fecal incontinence: sacral nerve stimulation and posterior tibia nerve stimulation. Electrical pulses are sent along implanted wires to stimulate the nerves within the rectum and anus in order to strengthen the muscles.

Vaginal Balloon

A vaginal balloon is a pump device that is inserted into the vagina and inflated to increase pressure in the rectal area, thereby reducing fecal incontinence experiences.


If fecal conditions are caused by an underlying issue, surgery may be the most appropriate treatment. These are the most common surgical treatment options:

  • Sphincteroplasty – repairs a weakened sphincter by stitching together the damaged portion resulting in a tighter overall muscle
  • Sphincter Replacement – An artificial sphincter can be used to replace a damaged one. When inflated, the sphincter is closed until a bowel movement
  • Sphincter Repair – A portion of muscle is taken from the thigh and wrapped around the sphincter, increasing the muscle tone and strength
  • Colostomy – A colostomy is normally only considered after other options have been tried. Stool is diverted from the rectum into the abdomen through an incision

Getting Help

Memorial Hermann is affiliated with highly qualified, experienced specialists and provides technologically advanced equipment for personalized diagnosis and treatment of fecal conditions in men and women. Schedule an appointment online or call (713) 242-4733.

Connect With a Clinical Navigator

A Clinical Navigator will get to know you and your condition and can help with next steps regarding treatment options.


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