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Bowel Control

Bowel control problems can be embarrassing. However, they are more common than you may realize. About 18 million adults in the U.S may be affected, and this number is probably even higher as most people are too embarrassed to report this condition. That means that at least one out of every 12 people struggle with controlling their bowels. This problem can happen to men or women of all ages.

Bowel control problems can include several issues:  

  • Accidental bowel leakage (ABL): the involuntary loss of solid or liquid stool or flatus (also sometimes called anal incontinence), including:
    • Fecal incontinence: the involuntary loss of solid or liquid stool
    • Flatal incontinence: the involuntary loss of gas (also called flatus)
  • Constipation: straining to pass bowel movements

Bowel control problems can affect people of every age. Older women experience these problems more than others, but ABL can happen at any age and to men as well. This problem can lead to embarrassment and concerns about odor or hygiene. Some women start to avoid exercise, social activities, or other things as a result. 

Certain health conditions such as frequent diarrhea, hemorrhoids, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and a history of a stroke can put you at higher risk for bowel control problems. People who have had surgery or radiation to the pelvic area are also at risk. Women are particularly at risk because of injuries to the pelvic floor that can result from having children. If the muscles, ligaments, tissues or nerves of the pelvic floor are damaged, women can experience troubles with bowel movements shortly after childbirth, or years later. 

Bowel control problems can be extremely distressing and cause many feelings of embarrassment. Unfortunately, many women are too embarrassed to talk about them with a health care provider. However, there are medical and surgical options to help women with this problem, and new treatments coming out recently have been shown to be very helpful. Speaking up and talking about these problems is the first step toward having healthy bowel habits. Seek out care from a urogynecologist, a physician specially trained in treating pelvic floor disorders, to take the first step toward bowel control. 


Am I at Risk?

There are many causes of bowel problems, which vary based on type.

Risk factors for fecal incontinence include:

  • Childbirth Injury
  • Anal Sphincter Injury
  • Nerve Injury
  • Prolapse
  • Fistula
  • Abnormal Stool Consistency

Risk factors for constipation include:

  • Dietary Problems
  • Medicines and Supplements
  • Pelvic Floor Disorders
  • Medical Conditions

For more information, read about these types of bowel control issues.