TOO COMMON TO IGNORE
Bowel control problems are surprisingly common. In fact, 1 in 12 adults has fecal incontinence (FI).1,2 That’s more than 20 million people in the U.S. alone.1,2 For the sake of comparison, that’s more than the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease or asthma.3,4
WHAT IS CHRONIC FI?
Chronic FI is a recurrent condition, meaning it doesn’t go away. People with chronic FI may be unable to resist the urge to defecate, which happens so suddenly that it is difficult to reach the bathroom in time. This symptom is called “urge incontinence.” There is another type of FI that happens when people are not aware they need to defecate. In other words, they can’t ”feel it” in the normal way, which is called passive incontinence.
FI may prevent you from going places or doing things that you like, because you are fearful of an accident or always looking for a restroom.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
The most important thing to know about bowel control problems is that they are common — but not normal. Often, these symptoms cause people to minimize their importance. It is natural (and totally understandable) to think it’s “just a part of getting older” or something you “have to learn to live with.”
But the opposite is true! Bowel control problems are usually treatable and almost always manageable.5,6 In other words, you can find relief.
STEP ONE: SPEAK UP
No matter what symptoms you’re experiencing, the first step is the same: talk to your doctor. It can be difficult to start the conversation. But all you really have to say is “I think I might have bowel control problems.” Your doctor will take it from there. (Remember, these conditions are common. You’re almost certainly not the only one asking your doctor about them.)
STEP TWO: LIFESTYLE CHANGES
In general, the next step is what’s known as “conservative treatments.” These are relatively simple lifestyle changes, adjusting your fiber intake, eliminating troublesome foods, doing exercises that strengthen your sphincter and pelvic floor muscles, using a very strict bathroom schedule, or trying anti-diarrheal medications.
STEP THREE: ADVANCED THERAPIES
If conservative treatments don’t provide enough relief, then your doctor may have you explore “advanced therapies.” Some are implantable devices that treat the nerves that control defecation, almost like a pacemaker for your bladder. Others involve injected medication or surgery.
THREE BIG TAKEAWAYS
Make an appointment
with a bowel control
Speak with a doctor in your community who can help you find the right treatment.
If you have symptoms,
you may have chronic FI,
or another condition.
Hear from people who have successfully reduced their bowel control symptoms.
Your condition can be
treated — so you can
Get our e-newsletter for success stories and tips for managing and treating your condition.
United States Quick Facts. United States Census Bureau Web site. Available at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00. Accessed January 27, 2017.
Whitehead WE, Borrud L, Goode PS, et al. Fecal Incontinence in US adults: epidemiology and risk factors. Gastroenterology. 2009;137(2):512-517.
Alzheimer’s Association. 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp. Accessed January 27, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2014 NHIS Data. http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/nhis/2014/table3-1.htm. Accessed January 27, 2017.
Paquette IM, Varma MG, Kaiser AM et al. The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons' clinical practice guideline for the treatment of fecal incontinence. Dis Colon Rectum. 2015;58(7):623-636.
Wald A, Bharucha AE, Cosman BC, et al. ACG clinical guideline: management of benign anorectal disorders. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014 Aug;109(8):1141-1157.
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