Fecal Incontinence Causes & Symptoms | MedStar Health
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Fecal incontinence affects approximately 1 in 5 women over the age of 40.

Also known as accidental bowel leakage, it affects tens of millions of women in the U.S., or approximately 1 in 5 women over the age of 40. Bowel control issues may result from muscle damage (most often related to childbirth), older age, nerve damage, or other medical conditions such as rectal prolapse (the rectum falls down into the anus), chronic constipation, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Fecal incontinence symptoms

For some people, including children, it is a relatively minor problem, limited to occasional soiling of their underwear. For others, the condition can be devastating, due to a complete lack of bowel control.

People experiencing this chronic condition may also experience:

  • Being unable to control the passage of gas or stools
  • Not making it to the toilet in time

Causes of fecal incontinence

Common causes include

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Surgery
  • Age: While fecal incontinence can occur at any age, it's more common in older adults

Muscle or nerve damage may be associated with childbirth. While this can be embarrassing, don't shy away from talking to your doctor. Treatments are available that can improve your quality of life.

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