Understanding Anal Incontinence: Why It Happens And How We Treat It

Anal incontinence, also known as fecal or bowel incontinence, occurs when a person is unable to control their bowel movements and experiences fecal leakage. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as diarrhea or as a result of passing gas, but is almost always considered an “accident” and the symptoms are only temporary. Chronic anal incontinence, though, describes the frequent loss of bowel control which results in partial or full fecal leakage.

We understand that bathroom-related problems aren’t easy to talk about, but talking about it is the first step in eliminating the problem and regaining control of your body! Don’t want to ask about it right away? That’s what this blog is for! Here’s everything you need to know about anal incontinence.

What Causes Fecal Incontinence?

Anal incontinence can be caused by a variety of factors but is mainly connected to nerve and/or muscle damage, which can result from chronic constipation, diarrhea, or childbirth. Other causes include:

  • Fecal Impaction - when stool gets stuck in the rectum

  • Loss of storage capacity in the rectum

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction - damage to muscles and nerves in the pelvis. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also lead to:

    • Rectal prolapse - when the anus drops into the rectum

    • Rectocele - when the anus protrudes through the vagina

  • Hemorrhoids - prevents sphincter from closing completely

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Stroke

  • Physical disabilities such as multiple sclerosis

  • Dementia

How To Treat Fecal Incontinence?

There are a few ways to treat anal incontinence, including diet changes, medication, exercises and therapies, and surgery.

Dietary changes tend to include eating fiber-rich foods, and other foods that affect the consistency of stool. Common medications include antidiarrheal drugs, bulk laxatives, and injectable bulking agents, depending on whether diarrhea or constipation is affecting the incontinence. Treatments involving exercises and therapies include bowel training, which relies on habitual visits to the bathroom at specific times of the day.

Depending on the severity of the anal incontinence, our colorectal specialists are likely to recommend some surgery options in order to treat and eliminate the condition, instead of simply managing the symptoms. Some surgery options include:

  • Sphincteroplasty - repairs damaged or weakened anal sphincter by freeing the damaged areas and overlapping with the healthy area before sewing them together in order to thicken and strengthen the area.

  • Sphincter replacement - damaged sphincter is replaced with artificial sphincter in the shape of a cuff that can be inflated or uninflated as necessary.

  • Sphincter repair (dynamic graciloplasty) - muscle from the patient’s thigh is taken and wrapped around the sphincter to restore strength and tightness.

Seeing one of our colorectal specialists is the only way to truly know what the best treatment option is for your anal incontinence, and whether surgery is appropriate. Our colorectal specialists will be able to walk you through the surgery options and find one most appropriate for your need and your budget. All three of our colorectal specialists are specifically trained in minimally invasive techniques, including robot technology, so you know you’re in good hands. To learn more or to book an appointment, contact us today!