What is bowel incontinence?
Bowel incontinence is the accidental or involuntary leakage of faeces (also called stools or poo) or wind. This is commonly caused by constipation but may also be associated with diarrhoea, and can happen to anyone at any age.
What is the normal frequency for bowel movements?
Normal frequency of emptying the bowel when you are healthy could be anything from three times a day to three times a week.
What causes bowel incontinence?
Incontinence can result from having weakened muscles in the pelvic floor and around the anus. This could be as a result of having chronic or constant constipation, after having children and from some medical illnesses.
Even though it is quite common, many women are embarrassed to talk to their doctor about bowel weakness or are unsure about what incontinence is.
If you are worried about leakage, try to tell your doctor what's happening no matter how trivial you think it is.
Bowel weakness can be diagnosed by:
|Diagnostic approach||What to expect|
Your doctor may ask you questions about:
The physical examination will assess:
|Anal manometry||A test of your anal reflexes and sensations where a small balloon-like device is placed in the anus and then inflated.|
|Anal and rectal ultrasound||An ultrasound is used to provide an image of the rectum, the sphincter muscles and surrounding tissue.|
Preventing & managing
You can prevent and manage incontinence with a number of simple dietary and lifestyle actions.
|Water||Drink 6-8 glasses of water per day (more if the weather is hot or if you are exercising). Not drinking enough water makes stools hard, dry and difficult to pass, which increases the strain on the pelvic floor muscles.|
|Caffeine and alcohol||Cut down on caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages and alcohol as they can worsen symptoms by making you need to urinate soon after eating or drinking.|
To avoid constipation and the strain on the pelvic floor muscles:
|Physical activity||Be physically active as this stimulates movement of the bowel: aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week, preferably in the morning to get your bowels moving.|
|Pelvic floor exercises||Do pelvic floor exercises regularly to strengthen your muscles.|
Lift in the correct manner to reduce strain on your pelvic floor
|Coughing||Quit smoking as chronic coughing associated with smoking can weaken your pelvic floor – for help call the Quitline on 13 7848 or visit quit.org.au
Visit your doctor if you have ongoing respiratory problems that cause you to cough.
Last updated 20 July 2017 — Last reviewed 15 January 2014
** Currently under review **
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at January 2014.