Aging & Health A to Z
Care & Treatment
Depending on what is causing or contributing to fecal incontinence, your healthcare professional may recommend one or more of the following:
- changes in diet
- pelvic floor muscle exercises
- “bowel training”
- other therapies
- a combination of the above.
Both constipation and diarrhea can contribute to fecal incontinence. If you have constipation, drinking enough water and other clear liquids (eight or more 8-ounce glasses daily) and adding high-fiber foods to your diet can make your stools softer and easier to pass. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and other legumes are all good sources of fiber. Ask your healthcare provider whether you should also take fiber supplements. Be sure to increase the amount of fiber in your diet gradually. If you overdo it, you may develop diarrhea. Caffeine which can also contribute to diarrhea and fecal incontinence as well and should be limited by cutting back on items such as cola drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate.
If necessary, your healthcare professional may prescribe drugs or recommend over-the-counter medications. He or she may recommend a “bulking agent” such as methylcellulose, to make stools bulkier and less watery. If you have diarrhea and it continues even after you make changes to your diet, your healthcare professional may prescribe an antidiarrheal medication such as loperamide (Imodium). There are some prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause diarrhea or constipation as a side effect, and your health care provider should check your regular medications for these potential problems.
Exercises and biofeedback
Exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles may improve your ability to control your bowels. Your healthcare provider can show you how to do these exercises. He or she may also teach you how to use biofeedback—a technique for training your body by closely focusing on information it provides—to make sure you’re doing the exercises properly. Biofeedback can help re-train pelvic floor and nearby muscles.
“Bowel training” can be particularly helpful if cognitive problems or physical disabilities are contributing to fecal incontinence. Training involves trying to have a bowel a movement at scheduled times of each day—say, after every meal. It can improve constipation by getting the body used to, or in the habit of, having regular bowel movements.
When fecal incontinence is due to damage to the sphincters or to the pelvic floor, your healthcare professional may recommend surgery. One type of surgery, called sphincteroplasty, can repair damage to rectal sphincters due to childbirth or other injuries. Another type of surgery involves implanting an inflatable cuff, called an artificial sphincter, at the end of the rectum.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012