Bowel leakage: 5 causes + 5 treatments
Let’s be honest – ‘leakage’ is not the loveliest of terms to type into a search engine, especially if you’ve just typed in ‘bowel’. But the truth is, thousands of people look for information on this topic every day. It might feel like something to be embarrassed about, but the loss of normal bowel control is actually a very common condition. Men and women of all ages can find themselves leaking solid stools, liquid stools, mucus, or gas. Bowel (also faecal) leakage is a type of incontinence that can be caused by many factors, but the good news is that there are just as many treatments available.
What causes bowel leakage?
The first step to understanding the causes of bowel incontinence is understanding what constitutes ‘normal’ bowel function. On our platform you can find a range of useful resources that explain exactly how the bowel works in men and women. Once you’ve taken a look at that, you’ll be better placed to understand the possible causes of faecal leakage:
- Digestive disorders: amongst other chronic diseases, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can both contribute to faecal incontinence by causing frequent constipation or diarrhoea.
- Childbirth: vaginal delivery can stretch or tear the muscles and tissues of the rectum, as well as the anal sphincter (muscle).
- Ageing: though incontinence is not a consequence of getting older, some changes in the body do occur that can weaken the muscles that control the bowel.
- Nerve damage: having a stroke, spinal cord injury, diabetes or multiple sclerosis can all affect the nerves around the anal sphincter.
- Many other factors! Haemorrhoids, Crohn’s disease, rectal prolapse, chronic diarrhoea or constipation… there are lots of reasons why bowel leakage may develop. That’s why it is so important to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional so that they can diagnose the exact cause of the condition.
What treatments are available for bowel leakage?
- Lifestyle changes: if you’ve developed symptoms recently, then there are some small alterations you can make to what you eat and drink that can help reduce bowel leakage, such as avoiding spicy foods and drinking plenty of water.
- Pelvic floor exercises: these simple exercises can help strengthen the muscles in your anus and rectum, which can help people suffering from bowel incontinence. If you’ve never tried them before, now’s the time! You can find instructive videos here.
- Medical therapies: fibre supplements, antidiarrheal drugs, laxatives and stool softeners can all help people suffering from faecal incontinence. However, it’s important to discuss the options with a healthcare professional, as the wrong treatment could actually make your condition worse.
- Surgical treatments: if the above first-line treatments don’t work, more advanced options are available such as sphincteroplasty, rectal prolapse surgery, haemorrhoidectomy and colostomy. Before going ahead, you’ll probably have a consultation with a surgeon who can discuss possible side effects and help you find the option you are most comfortable with and of course best suited to you personally.
- Sacral neuromodulation: since the sacral nerve is crucial for controlling the anal muscles, this procedure can be highly effective for those suffering with faecal leakage. Take a look at the patient brochure and video available on our website.
We hope that’s helped you understand the causes and treatments of bowel leakage. Keep exploring and talking – no topic should be taboo!
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