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Fecal incontinence

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Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements, causing stool (feces) to leak unexpectedly from your rectum. Also called bowel incontinence, fecal incontinence can range from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control.


If fecal incontinence is due to a problem that can't be completely corrected, you can still help limit the number of accidents you have by taking better control of your bowel movements. You can start by making changes in your diet:

  • Watch what you eat. Keep a list of what you eat daily for a week. After a few days, you may discover a connection between certain foods and incontinence. After you identify foods that seem to cause problems, cut back on them and see whether your incontinence improves. Foods that can cause diarrhea and worsen fecal incontinence include spicy foods, fatty and greasy foods, cured or smoked meat, and dairy products (if you're lactose intolerant). Caffeine-containing beverages and alcohol also can act as laxatives, as can products such as sugar-free gum and diet soda which contain artificial sweeteners.

  • Eat smaller meals. In some people, large meals can cause bowel contractions that promote diarrhea. Try to eat several small meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones.

  • Eat more fiber. Fiber makes stool soft, formed and easier to control. Fiber is present in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals. You'll want to aim for 20 grams of fiber a day, but add it to your diet slowly. Too much fiber all at once can cause bloating, gas or even diarrhea.

  • Drink more water. To keep stools soft and formed, drink at least eight glasses of liquid, preferably water, a day.

In addition to managing fecal incontinence through changes to your diet, you can help avoid further discomfort by keeping the skin around your anus as clean and dry as possible.

To relieve anal discomfort and eliminate any possible odor associated with fecal incontinence:

  • Wash with water. Gently wash the area with water after each bowel movement — either by using wet toilet paper, showering or, better yet, soaking in a bath. Soap can dry skin, making irritation worse, as can rubbing with dry toilet paper, so avoid both. Pre-moistened, alcohol-free towelettes also are a good choice for cleaning the area.

  • Dry thoroughly. Allow the area to air-dry after washing. If you don't have time, gently pat the area dry with clean toilet paper or a clean washcloth.

  • Apply a cream or powder. Use a moisture-barrier cream to keep irritated skin from direct contact with stool. Ask your doctor to recommend a product. Be sure the area is clean before applying the cream. You can also try nonmedicated talcum powder or cornstarch to relieve anal discomfort.

  • Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing. Tight clothing can restrict airflow and worsen anal problems. Change soiled underwear as soon as possible.

When medical treatments can't completely eliminate incontinence, products such as absorbent pads and disposable underwear can help you better manage the problem. You can purchase incontinence products at drugstores, supermarkets and medical supply stores. If you use pads or adult diapers, be sure they have an absorbent wicking layer on top. Products with this layer protect your skin by pulling stool and moisture away from skin and into the pad.


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