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How can I talk to my doctor about my fecal incontinence?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Talking to your doctor about fecal incontinence (unintended passage of stool) can cause embarrassment. Keep in mind that, to your physician, fecal incontinence is not a personal problem, but a medical symptom like any other -- one that needs to be investigated thoroughly because there are so many possible causes.

Because a wide variety of medical conditions and traumas can affect continence (and the symptoms may not appear until much later), the doctor will need a detailed medical history. If you have delivered one or more babies, it may be helpful to provide the length of your labors, how much the babies weighed, whether deliveries involved the use of forceps or episiotomies, whether you had any tears that needed repair, and how your bowels functioned after the deliveries.

Let the physician know about other medical conditions you have and any medications (over-the-counter or prescription) you take. Also relevant are any injuries or treatments in your pelvic region. For example, have you had prostate or hemorrhoid surgery? Radiation to the pelvic area? An injury involving your spine or your anus?

Be frank about your concerns. Although fecal incontinence is rarely the first sign of rectal cancer or another serious medical condition, let your doctor know about your fears. And make sure the doctor knows exactly how the incontinence is affecting your life and how you are attempting to manage it. During your evaluation, your physician -- or a nurse who specializes in incontinence -- may be able to suggest more effective ways to manage the problem.

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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.