What is Bowel Incontinence and How Can You Prevent It?
Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence, is the lack of ability to regulate your bowel movements causing stool to be involuntarily released from your rectum. This condition is characterized by a sporadic leakage of stool while passing gas to a total loss of bowel control.
Signs and Symptoms of Bowel Incontinence
Most of us are oblivious to the fact that regulating our bowel movements is actually a skill that we acquire and may possibly lose it due to age and other factors. A proportion of our population suffers from bowel incontinence due to a number of reasons. They may completely fail to acquire this skill from their infancy stages while others have lost it either to some bodily disorders and old age or bodily. Below are symptoms that are usually associated with bowel incontinence:
– Inability to hold back gas, and stool long enough till you reach the toilet
– Abdominal cramping
Causes of Bowel Incontinence
The ability to repress stool requires the proper functioning of your anus, rectum and nervous system. Furthermore, you ought to have the bodily and mental capabilities to identify and fittingly react to the urge to defecate. If there are any disorders with these factors then bowel incontinence will occur. These disorders may include the following:
Constipation – ironically, constipation is the leading cause of bowel incontinence. Persistent constipation may lead to impacted stool which usually too large and painful to pass. This accumulated mass of stool leads to the stretching and weakening of your anal muscles.
As looser stool is formed higher in the bowel, it moves around this accumulated mass and leaks out resulting into bowel incontinence. Continued constipation also makes the nerves of the anus and rectum less reactive to the existence of stool in the rectum.
Muscle Damage – muscle damage is another common cause of bowel incontinence. Anal sphincter muscles located at the tip of the rectum help you to hold back stool. In instances whereby they are damaged due to injury, stool will leak out since they would not be strong enough to repress this urge.
This injury of the anal sphincter sometimes occurs amongst women during vaginal delivery and they develop this disorder a few weeks after giving birth. For some, incontinence caused by childbirth will not show until their mid-40s or afterwards.
Nerve Damage – bowel incontinence may also occur as a result of the damage of the nerves that regulate the anal sphincter leading to the inability to sense stool in the rectum. If these nerves do not function appropriately then bowel incontinence will occur.
This is because you will not feel the urge to pass stool until it leaks out. Nerve damage may be caused during giving birth, stroke, injuries to the spinal cord and diseases that may disable these nerves such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis and frequent constipation.
Diarrhea – since loose stool is harder to control than more solid, diarrhea may lead to bowel incontinence or make it worse if it is already in existence.
Surgery – surgery to your rectum can scar and stiffen its walls and make it lose its elasticity. Therefore, the rectum cannot stretch as usual and hold stool long enough for you to get to a toilet. This leads to bowel incontinence since the rectum drastically loses its storage capacity.
Diseases and other conditions – Anal, rectal infection or bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease easily damage the sphincter muscles in your anus and will lead to bowel incontinence. On the other hand, conditions such as the dipping down of the rectum into the anus (rectal pro-lapse) will also lead to incontinence.
In women, a protuberance of the rectum through the vagina (rectocele) is also a cause. Hemorrhoids are also known to prevent the total closure of the anal sphincter and this will also lead to bowel incontinence.
Loss of muscle strength due to old age – as we grow older especially after we reach 40 years of age, the muscles and ligaments that support our pelvis and the sphincter muscles significantly lose their strength.
If damaged, the replacement of these muscles is also slower in the body due to slower metabolisms. This explains the prevalence of incontinence amongst the elderly population.
Prevention of Bowel Incontinence
In conclusion, the prevention of bowel incontinence will be best achieved by consuming healthy diets and performing exercises regularly. Through this, you will be able to strengthen your muscles and provide your body with the necessary nutrients and minerals that will facilitate the growth of new tissues in case of damage.