Fecal incontinence is the involuntary loss of fecal matter or gas. It is often called the “silent affliction” because people are too embarrassed to discuss the problem with a doctor.
Leaks can be distressing because they are unpredictable, difficult to hide and the associated odor can ruin social situations. Fecal incontinence is more common than most people realize, with up to 11 percent of people experiencing it.
It is one of the most common reasons people are placed in nursing homes. The causes of fecal incontinence include change in the consistency of stool, damage to the nerves or muscles in the pelvis and other anatomical problems.
Controlling the bowels becomes more difficult as the consistency of bowel movements loosens. Gas is harder to control than loose stool, and loose stool is harder to control than solid, formed stool.
Normal bowel control requires you to sense that stool is arriving in the rectum and anus. The nerves and muscles that control the rectum, anus and pelvic floor must be intact for this to occur. If they are damaged, this can lead to incontinence.
Protrusions into the anus also can cause the condition. This includes hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse, which is when part of the rectum falls out of place and sometimes sticks out of the anus.
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