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Symptoms of Incontinence

Bowel incontinence is the involuntary or accidental leakage of liquid or solid stool. It is long-term (chronic) and unpredictable, and can be caused by many conditions.

Learn about common causes of incontinence

Some typical signs include:

  • You notice leakage or soiling in your clothes
  • You sometimes don’t make it to the bathroom in time
  • You make plans around having easy access to a restroom

Some persons with incontinence might feel the urge to have a bowel movement, but impaired muscles are unable to control it until they can get to a bathroom. Others may lack sensation in nerves, and unfelt stool may leak unexpectedly.

Bowel incontinence is also referred to as accidental bowel leakage, fecal incontinence, soiling, or lack of bowel control. The term ‘anal incontinence’ refers to the loss of intestinal gas, as well as solid or liquid stool. Incontinence of gas is embarrassing and can be socially isolating.

It can be difficult for those who do not struggle with incontinence to understand how it can affect nearly every aspect of daily life. Being incontinent in public is understandably a fear and people with incontinence must live with the uncertainty of never being sure when an episode might strike.

The personal impact of incontinence becomes even more profound as sufferers begin to withdraw from social situations because of the problem. They may participate in fewer and fewer social and work activities. It is not uncommon for a person with incontinence to limit or even entirely avoid activities that most people take for granted, such as shopping, going to the cinema, dining out, or intimacy.

For some who have incontinence, it can become difficult to even walk out the front door, let alone ride in a car, bus, or airplane. Their world seems to become smaller day by day. The withdrawal may be so gradual that it’s barely noticeable, until one day there comes recognition of how isolating or disabling it has become.

Get Help With Your Symptoms

Incontinence is generally treatable, yet, most individuals with incontinence never discuss the condition with their doctor. It may be difficult to bring up the subject of bowel incontinence with a doctor. But remember, doctors are there to treat and help with unusual health conditions. They do it every day.

Incontinence is surprisingly common. So if you notice changes in your bowel control, don’t let embarrassment and your lack of knowledge about treatment options prevent you from finding the help you need. Here are some tips on how to talk to your doctor.

Looking for a healthcare provider?

Whether you are just starting treatment or your treatment is already underway, it is never too late to take an active role in your health care.

By talking with your doctor, nurses, and other people on your health care team, you can make sure you are not missing the best treatment for you.

  • Give your doctor as much information as you can. Don’t wait for your doctor to ask questions.
  • Share everything – even information that might be embarrassing. This information can help your doctor make better recommendations.
  • Ask as many questions as you need to understand your diagnosis. If you do not ask questions, your doctor may think you understand everything you are being told.
  • Write down your questions before your visit so you do not forget anything. Start by asking the most important ones and work your way down the list.
  • Make sure you really understand the information. Take notes, bring someone with you to the appointment, or ask how to get more information.
  • Remember to follow up. In some cases, you may need more information or care.
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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

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