You may feel the urge to move your bowels but not be able to make it to the toilet in time. Or you may involuntarily pass wind and a small amount of stool causing staining of your clothing.

Bowel incontinence is more common than we realise as it can be a very embarrassing problem causing anxiety and even depression.

Causes of bowel incontinence vary and may include:

  • Weakening or damage to the sphincter muscles (muscles that control passage of stool from your rectum). This is often a result of childbirth.
  • Constipation can cause your rectum to stretch allowing stool to leak around any blockage.
  • Diarrhoea can cause watery movements that are harder to control. Diarrhoea can be a result of bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Or it can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
  • Nerve damage caused by injury to your spine or by a neurological disorder.

How is bowel incontinence treated?

If you think you have bowel incontinence, visit your GP in the first instance. Bowel incontinence can be treated using medication, changes in your diet and (in some cases) special exercises to strengthen the sphincter muscles and pelvic area.

You may be referred to a specialist for further tests and scans. They will also recommend products you can use to protect your clothing and allow you to leave home without the worry of soiling your clothing.

In some cases surgery may be required. Your consultant will recommend the procedure that can best address your own medical condition.