There are few medical conditions as humiliating as incontinence, whether fecal or urinary. Fecal incontinence, often defined as uncontrollable bowels can be particularly traumatic as it is difficult to hide.
People who suffer from this condition may be hesitant to discuss it with others, unfortunately those "others" can often includes their healthcare provider. This prevents them from getting incontinence treatment and prolongs the condition. In some cases the social effects of being unable to control the bowels can lead to someone cutting themselves off from contact with others altogether, a condition known as agoraphobia.
Causes of Fecal Incontinence
These can range from anal sex to constipation. Anything that damage the ring of muscles that make up the anal sphincter can lead to the inability to prevent involuntary bowel evacuation. Other causes of uncontrollable bowels include damage to nerves and hemorrhoids.
Sphincter damage: The sphincter is a ring of muscles that controls the opening and closing of the anus. This kind of damage may be the result of trauma due to childbirth, or surgery (including hemorrhoid surgery). Vaginal child delivery can stretch and weaken the anal sphincters. The pressure exerted by stool accumulating in the rectum due to constipation can weaken the sphincter muscles allowing liquid stool to leak out.
There are nerves that allow a person to sense the need to defecate; if these become damaged removing or reducing the sensation of a full bowel, then fecal incontinence is a likely result. This kind of damage, like the aforementioned sphincter damage, can be the result of childbirth. It can also be the result of damaged nerves due to other diseases. Other kinds of nerves open and close the sphincters and these can get damaged too. If the sphincters will not close properly then there will be fecal incontinence especially when combined with other conditions like liquid stool as a result of diarrhea.
Hemorrhoids that protrude from the anus may keep it from closing all the way, kind of like a garden hose sticking out of a shed door. Scarring of the rectum due to inflammatory bowel diseases may also compromise its ability to stretch to accommodate fecal matter. The diseases that cause rectal scarring include such conditions as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both of those are known for causing uncontrollable bowels as a primary symptom in addition to subsequent rectal damage.
Diagnosing Fecal Incontinence
Before finding an adequate incontinence treatment, there will have to be a diagnosis. Discussing their inability to keep from soiling themselves is not easy for anyone, but if the problem of uncontrollable bowels is to be solved then the diagnosis is necessary. There is a test for the tightness of the rectum called anal manometry in which a pressure sensitive tube is inserted into the rectum. An ultrasound may also provide data on any structural damage to the rectum.
In some cases incontinence treatment may consist only of changes to diet. Adding bulk to stool by consuming more fiber may help to make it firmer and thus more easy to control. In other cases, incontinence treatment may consist of using laxatives. Laxatives help by placing bowel movements under the user's control, allowing them to schedule the time of their defecation thus becoming more "regular". In cases where other methods do not adequately treat weak sphincter muscles, surgery may be necessary. Among other methods, surgical incontinence treatment may consist of a procedure to join the ends of a torn sphincter muscle, or the replacement of the anus with muscle from the thigh.
While the condition may seem undignified and be embarrassing to discuss with a doctor, it is entirely treatable. There are doctors who specialize in incontinence treatment and who have seen many other similar cases throughout their career. There is no reason to live with the condition.