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Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence, also called bowel incontinence or anal incontinence, is the inability to control your bowel movements.

In most cases, it goes away or at least improves with medical treatment. So if you have fecal incontinence, it’s important to tell your doctor.

Possible causes of fecal incontinence include the following:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Damage to the muscles or nerves around the anus
  • Change in storage capacity in the rectum (due to past surgery or disease)
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction (problems with the functioning of the muscles that control urination and defecation)
  • Severe hemorrhoids
  • Rectal prolapse

How can I get help for fecal incontinence?

Before determining a treatment plan, doctors at Rush will find problem’s source. This process might involve one or more of the following:

  • Anal manometry to check the tightness and responsiveness of the anal sphincter (the muscle that opens and closes to let stool pass). This test also evaluates the sensitivity and function of the rectum.
  • Anorectal ultrasonography to evaluate the structure of the anal sphincter.
  • Defecography, also known as proctography, to determine how well the rectum can hold and pass stool.
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy, which allows doctors to look inside the rectum for signs of disease, inflammation, tumors or scar tissue.
  • Anal electromyography (EMG), which tests for nerve damage, a common result of injury to the anus during childbirth.

Care for fecal incontinence at Rush

Depending on the severity of your problem and its underlying causes, your treatment at Rush might involve one or more of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as eating more fiber, drinking more water and exercising regularly
  • Medications to thicken stool and slow down its passage
  • Physical therapy to retrain your bowel muscles
  • Sacral nerve stimulation to help improve communication between your brain and your bowel muscles
  • Surgical repair of the sphincter (the muscle that opens and closes to let stool pass)
  • Surgical replacement of the sphincter with an artificial version, for patients whose own muscles cannot be repaired
  • Colostomy, if other options have not worked or are unlikely to work

Why choose Rush for fecal incontinence care

  • Rush has a program for abdominal and pelvic health problems that can address the full spectrum of issues related to pelvic pain. The program has a coordinator who will help you navigate the multiple specialists you might need to see to find relief.
  • Colon and rectal surgeons at Rush have helped pioneer several minimally invasive techniques, including colorectal laparoscopy and intestinal robotic surgery. These techniques, which involve smaller incisions, can lead to less pain and shorter recovery times. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition

Colon and rectal surgeon Joanne Favuzza, DO, and a patient discuss an innovative treatment for fe

Joanne Favuzza, DO, is a colon and rectal surgeon at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

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