Fecal incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of gas or liquid stool (called minor incontinence) or the involuntary loss of solid stool (called major incontinence). Surveys indicate that it affects between 2 and 7 percent of the general population, although the true incidence may be much higher since many people are hesitant to discuss this problem with a healthcare provider.
Minor fecal incontinence affects men and women equally, but women are almost twice as likely as men to report major incontinence. Fecal incontinence is also more common in older adults.
Fecal incontinence can undermine self-confidence, create anxiety, and lead to social isolation. People who suffer with fecal incontinence should learn as much as possible about their condition and discuss their symptoms honestly with their clinician. Fecal incontinence is a treatable condition; treatment can lessen symptoms in most cases and can often completely cure incontinence.
The underlying cause of fecal incontinence can often be established with a combination of a medical history, a physical examination, and diagnostic tests.
Diagnostic tests are particularly useful in pinpointing the cause and ensuring the correct treatment. One or more tests may be recommended, based upon the suspected cause(s) of incontinence.
Three types of treatment are commonly used for fecal incontinence: medical therapy, biofeedback, and surgery. The specific treatment(s) recommended will depend upon the underlying cause of fecal incontinence.