Bowel incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements. You may experience leakage of stool when passing gas or even a frequent and strong urge to have a bowel movement that comes on suddenly, or a combination of both. Bowel incontinence interferes with daily life for many people with the condition and is often a source of stress and social anxiety.
Causes of Bowel Incontinence
For many patients, there is often a combination of factors that cause bowel incontinence, but some of the more commons conditions that contribute to bowel incontinence include:
- Nerve or muscle damage, specifically to the anal sphincter muscles. This damage can occur during childbirth or result from surgery. Damage can cause miscommunication between the sacral nerves and the brain.
- Obstetrical injury from pregnancy or childbirth.
- Constipation, which can lead to impacted stool that is too hard to pass. Chronic constipation may also cause nerve damage.
- Conditions that affect the nerves such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
- Advanced age.
The Role of the Sacral Nerves in Controling the Bowels
Bowel incontinence, just like urinary incontinence, is often caused by miscommunication between the bowel and the brain. The brain tells the bowel what to do by sending electrical signals to the muscles in the pelvic floor and the sphincter muscles. These signals travel from the brain to the nerves located in the sacral area of the back and then to the bowels. When there is damage or injury to the nerves and muscles in the sacral area, a miscommunication can occur and signals that control the reflexes and the sphincter muscles in the rectum get interrupted, leading to bowel incontinence.
Diagnosing Bowel Incontinence
If you have experienced loss of bowel control, an experienced gastroenterologist or GI doctor will diagnose your condition and establish a treatment plan. Your GI doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. Additional medical tests to identify nerve or muscle damage, and/or imaging tests, may also be ordered to aid in an accurate diagnosis.
A gastroenterologist will diagnose and prescribe conservative therapies to manage the condition. If these conservatve therapies are not effective, your GI doctor will refer you to Chesapeake Urology for evaluation for neuromodulation therapy, an advanced treatment for bowel incontinence.