What is Fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence, or bowel incontinence, is the inability to control bowel movements, causing the involuntary passage of stool. Symptoms of this often embarrassing disorder range from occasionally leaking small amounts of stool and passing gas, to completely losing control of bowel movements.

Classified as a Pelvic Floor Disorder (PFD), fecal incontinence occurs when muscles in the pelvic area cannot support the organs in the pelvis. These organs include the bladder, uterus (women), prostate (men), and rectum.

What causes Fecal Incontinence and PFD?

The brain controls the muscles of the pelvic floor through the nerves. Medical conditions or injuries that impact the health of nerves (such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, back surgery, spinal stenosis, or childbirth) can result in weakness or injury of the pelvic floor muscle, resulting in fecal incontinence and PFD.


Those with PFD are unable to control the muscles in the pelvic floor to have a bowel movement. People with PFD contract these muscles rather than relax them, and because of this, they either can’t have a bowel movement or they have an incomplete one. PFD also includes urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. In fact, many people suffering with fecal incontinence also experience urinary incontinence.

Urinary Incontinence

Is a loss of bladder control due to bladder muscles that are too weak or too strong. Symptoms range from mild leaking to uncontrollable wetting, and become more common with age.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Is a condition in which the uterus, bladder and bowel may “drop” onto the vagina and cause a bulge through the vaginal canal. Also, common, is a disorder in which the rectum becomes “stretched out” and slips out of the anus. This is called rectal prolapse. It is estimated that nearly one-third of all U.S. women are affected by one of these types of pelvic floor disorder in her lifetime.

Who is at risk for developing Fecal Incontinence?

Although men and women are at risk of developing fecal incontinence and PFDs, pelvic floor disorders occur more frequently in women than men. Nearly one in 10 women older than the age of 40 has fecal incontinence, possibly as a complication of childbirth. Other risk factors include: being over the age of 55, overweight, post-menopausal, a past pelvic surgery, nerve damage or a connective tissue disorder.

How is Fecal Incontinence treated?

Fecal incontinence can be treated in a number of non-invasive ways. Treatment usually combines self-care, medicines, physical therapy and home exercise. Treatment depends on the cause of problem you have and what best fits your lifestyle.

Dietary changes often reduce the occurrence of fecal incontinence. As stool consistency is affected by what you eat and drink, your doctor may recommend diet modification and adjusting nutritional supplements taken.

If nerve or muscle damage is the cause of the fecal incontinence, the physician may recommend exercises and similar therapies to improve function and strength. These exercises include bowel training and biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique taught by specially trained physiotherapists that can increase anal muscle strength, allowing patients to learn to relax or contract pelvic floor muscles.


Sometimes helps patients with fecal incontinence. When appropriate, these may be prescribed by your physician.

Is surgery required to treat Fecal Incontinence?

Those who continue to experience fecal incontinence that continues even with medical treatment may benefit from surgery to correct the problem. Several options exist, depending on the underlying cause of the incontinence. In most cases, surgery options are minimally invasive, offering less pain, less scarring and shorter recovery time. Treatment of incontinence and PFD significantly improves a person’s quality of life. Although it may be awkward or embarrassing to discuss, Dr. Paonessa takes pride in making all patients feel comfortable and at ease, and ultimately, improving a patient’s quality of life and back into his/her social life.

Disclaimer: Although this website may contain medical information, this is NO substitute for consulting with a physician. Self diagnosis by any patient is dangerous.

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