What are the causes of fecal incontinence?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Fecal incontinence can be caused by a number of digestive disorders. Constipation can cause fecal incontinence if impacted stool stretches and weakens the muscles of the rectum. Diarrhea can cause fecal incontinence if the muscles of the rectum have difficulty holding in loose stool. Damage to nerves or the tissues of the rectum can also cause fecal incontinence. Conditions such as rectal prolapse, rectal cancer or hemorrhoids are other possible causes.

Fecal incontinence may be caused by an abscess or inflammation in the rectum or perianal area, or damage to the anal sphincter muscles or pelvic floor muscles from complications or trauma of childbirth, nerve damage resulting from childbirth neurologic disorders, or the result of a previous operation. The anal sphincter muscles are two muscles at the end of the rectum called the internal and external sphincter muscles. These keep stool inside the rectum. Hemorrhoid surgery may sometimes damage the sphincter muscles.

Stroke, physical disability due to an injury, and diseases that affect the nerves such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis can also cause damage to the nerves that control the anal sphincters or sense stool in the rectum. Chronic constipation or diarrhea may also cause this condition.

Loss of storage capacity in the rectum, which may also cause fecal incontinence, may result from radiation treatment and rectal surgery. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may cause rectal scarring that stiffens the walls of the rectum, which in turn cannot stretch to hold as much stool.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can also cause fecal dysfunction. This may be seen in rectal prolapse, protrusion of the rectum out of the anus, and rectocele, a protrusion of the rectum through the vagina. Often women do not experience symptoms of fecal incontinence due to pelvic floor dysfunction until their mid-40s or later.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

It is caused by a tear in the annal sphincter or nerve damage to these muscles.

Many common conditions are associated with accidental bowel leakage. Common conditions associated with ABL include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic diarrhea, Crohn's & Colitis, obesity, diabetes and urinary incontinence. ABL sometimes follows damage of the muscles or nerves of the pelvic floor, which can happen after childbirth or treatment for cancer or prostate problems. ABL is more common with aging in both men and women, and menopause as well. ABL can also be triggered by artificial sweeteners, caffeine, spicy and fatty foods, and medications.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.