The Incontinence Taboo: The Facts About Bowel Incontinence
Whilst more people are becoming more comfortable about discussing urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence still remains something of a taboo. However, the condition is more common than you think. Indeed, around 10% of people in the UK will experience faecal incontinence at some stage of their lives.
Bowel Incontinence: What is it?
Bowel incontinence is similar to urinary incontinence, in that it involves a sudden, urgent need to go to the toilet. However, unlike urinary incontinence, which involves the passing of urine, bowel incontinence involves the sudden urge to pass a stool.
The condition affects people in different ways. For some, it may only occur occasionally. For others, loss of bowel control can happen every day, and have a serious impact on their lives. It’s more common in those over the age of 60.
Why Do You Have Faecal Incontinence?
There are a variety of reasons why you might be experiencing bowel incontinence. These include:
- Damage to the muscles surrounding the anus (caused by pregnancy, surgery or injury)
- Damage caused by IBS, or chronic constipation or diarrhoea
- Parkinson’s disease
You may experience no sensation when soiling yourself, which is known as passive incontinence. Alternatively, you might be prone to accidentally soiling yourself when passing wind, or you may simply not be able to get to the toilet on time.
It’s important to note that the condition is not a ‘natural part of aging’ and that there are treatments available to you. If you have this form of incontinence, it’s important to speak to your doctor who will assess the severity of your condition and recommend the right course of action.
Mild Bowel Incontinence
If your condition is mild and only affects you occasionally, you may be able to manage your incontinence yourself by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle. This is particularly beneficial if you think your incontinence is caused by either constipation or diarrhoea.
Eat foods that are high in fibre if you suffer from constipation, and limit them if you have regular diarrhoea. Avoid foods that can irritate the digestive system, such as fatty foods, sugary products and alcohol. Exercise also helps to maintain healthy digestion, and pelvic floor muscle training can help you to ensure you get to the toilet on time.
Additionally, you may find it helpful to wear elasticated trousers, or items of clothing that are easy to lower when you need to go to the toilet.
Moderate to Severe Incontinence
If bowel incontinence is having significant impact in your life, there are other treatments available. Medication such as laxatives or Loperamide may be effective in controlling constipation and diarrhoea, though they shouldn’t be seen as a long-term solution.
In more serious cases, surgery may be the appropriate course of action, such as sphincteroplasty, which repairs the damaged sphincter muscles, or sacral nerve stimulation, which uses electrodes to stimulate the sacral nerves. Tibial nerve stimulation is another, relatively new treatment, which involves a fine needle being inserted into the ankle, and a mild electric current passed through to stimulate the tibial nerve. Although this is a recent treatment, it has enjoyed good rates of success thus far.