Bowel Incontinence affects millions of people of all ages. It commonly affects more women than men because the anal muscles can be damaged during child birth. It is also common in old people because as we age, the anal sphincter (anal muscles) weakens which causes incontinence.
According to the studies of National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), bowel incontinence is caused by damage or injury to the anal sphincter which then results to unexpected leak of stool from the rectum. It ranges from occasional leak of stool to a complete loss of bowel control.
Bowel incontinence may develop as a result of:
- Injury of the sphincter caused by childbirth
- Chronic use of laxatives
- Diminished sensation of rectal fullness
- Rectal surgeries
- Severe diarrhea or hemorrhoids
In diagnosing this condition, doctors will usually perform physical test and some medical test. Some test may include:
- Anal Mamometry: This exam evaluates the anal sphincter and its ability to respond to signal, also it checks the function of the rectum.
- Anal Electromyography: This exam will check for nerve damage caused by injury to the anal muscles.
- Anorectal Ultrasonography: This exam will check the structure of the anal sphincters.
In taking care of people with bowel incontinence, proper treatment and therapies are important to help eradicate the problem and also help them boost their confidence. Most interventions for this kind of condition are related to improving bowel control which includes:
- Diet: What we eat and drink influences stool consistency. Eating a high fiber diet like fruits, cereals, whole wheat bread, and vegetables adds bulk to the diet which thickens loose stool. Limiting alcohol and caffeine in the diet helps in reducing diarrhea and incontinence. Also avoid fatty and spicy foods.
- Bowel Retraining Program: Since bowel incontinence is related to lack of control or urge to defecate, retraining program and some exercise are beneficial to restore strength of the anal muscles.
- Medication: Anti-diarrheal medication is given if the incontinence is caused by diarrhea. Other medication may include drugs that add bulk to the stool or drugs that reduce water content in the stool. In addition, some medication like antacid and laxative can increase or cause bowel incontinence, so make sure to evaluate the medications taken by the client.
- Surgery: If medical treatments are not helpful, surgery is performed to correct the problem. They are:
a) Rectal Sphincter Repair – Anal muscles are re-attached to tighten up the sphincter.
b) Sphincter Replacement – An artificial sphincter is implanted to replace the damage anal sphincter.
c) Fecal Diversion – A colostomy is made to divert the stool through an opening in the abdominal wall. This is only done when other treatments have failed.
Bowel incontinence is not a hopeless situation. With proper treatment and therapy, the problem can be corrected. Modification in the diet, regular exercise, reducing constipation, and avoiding bowel straining can help eliminate bowel incontinence. Yes, bowel incontinence has a cure but always remember the saying that prevention is better than cure.