Bowel incontinence

Bowel incontinence means bowel movements are not able to be controlled. This can lead to accidental passing of stools (poo). See your GP if you have bowel incontinence. It can be upsetting and hard to cope with, but treatment is effective and a cure is often possible.

About bowel incontinence

The experience of bowel incontinence can vary from person to person.

This includes for some people:

  • feeling a sudden need to go to the toilet but are unable to reach a toilet in time
  • experiencing no sensation before soiling themselves, or there might be slight soiling when passing wind
  • experiencing incontinence on a daily basis, while for others it only happens from time to time

It's thought one in 10 people will be affected by it at some point in their life.

It can affect people of any age, although it's more common in older people. It's also more common in women than men.

Why bowel incontinence happens

Bowel incontinence is a symptom of an underlying problem or medical condition.

Many cases are caused by diarrhoeaconstipation, or weakening of the muscle that controls the opening of the anus.

It can also be caused by long-term conditions such as diabetesmultiple sclerosis and dementia.

When to seek medical advice and treatment

Bowel incontinence can be upsetting and hard to cope with. Treatment is effective and a cure is often possible, so make sure you see your GP.

It's important to remember that:

  • bowel incontinence isn't something to be ashamed of – it's simply a medical problem
  • it can be treated – there's a wide range of successful treatments
  • bowel incontinence isn't a normal part of ageing
  • it won't usually go away on its own – most people need treatment for the condition

If you don't want to see your GP, you can make an appointment at your local continence service in some areas without a referral.

These clinics are staffed by specialist nurses who can offer useful advice about incontinence. You can get details on what services are available in your trust area via the website for your local health and social care trust - see below.

In many cases, with the right treatment, a person can keep normal bowel function throughout their life.

Treatment will often depend on the cause and how severe it is. Possible options include:

  • lifestyle and dietary changes to relieve constipation or diarrhoea
  • exercise programmes to strengthen the muscles that control the bowel
  • medication to control diarrhoea and constipation
  • surgery, of which there are a number of different options

Incontinence products, such as anal plugs and disposable pads, can be used until your symptoms are better controlled.

Even if it isn't possible to cure your bowel incontinence, symptoms should improve significantly.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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