5 Effective Ways to Overcome Bowel Incontinence
Living with bowel incontinence can be a challenging and frustrating problem to deal with. Although the severity of the problem may vary between people, anyone living with the condition will agree that it can be incredibly damaging to self-confidence and mental health. If not treated early, the long-term effects of bowel incontinence can potentially contribute to other health problems.
Bowel incontinence is a loss of bowel control resulting in the unexpected passing of faecal matter. It's a fairly common problem, with studies indicating that approximately 1.4% of the UK population over the age of 40, suffer from some degree of 'major faecal incontinence.' (source: nrshealthcare.co.uk)
This number, however, might not be as accurate as initially thought as many people don't report problems like bowel incontinence as they feel ashamed or embarrassed.
There is, of course, nothing to be embarrassed about, and bowel incontinence should be viewed as a medical condition like any other. Getting the right help is important, and there are steps you can take to help manage the problem, and possibly eliminate it for good.
Before going into how the problem is treated, it may be useful to understand why bowel incontinence occurs in the first place.
By understanding any underlying causes, you might find that you're better equipped to follow a specific treatment plan that is just right for you, giving you a better chance of eliminating the problem for good.
Common Causes of Bowel Incontinence
One of the most common causes of bowel incontinence is severe or long-term constipation. Faecal matter that builds up in the rectum becomes impacted, resulting in the formation of a 'plug' that gets worse over time. The longer this problem is left, the more impacted the faecal matter becomes. As a result, the muscles around the rectum stretch and become weaker. Watery stool from further up the colon is then able to flow passed the impacted stool and out the rectum.
It is easier to keep a more solid stool in the rectum than it is a loose stool. If your stool consistency is usually quite loose, you have more chance of passing faecal matter when trying to pass wind.
There are nerves surrounding the rectum which control the passing of stools. These nerves allow you to feel when your rectum is full and when it needs emptying. These nerves therefore allow control of the anal sphincter which allows you to decide when and where you empty your bowels. Damage to these nerves can result in a loss of control and the involuntary passing of faecal matter.
Nerve damage can be the result of childbirth, surgery, constant straining when trying to clear your bowels and traumatic injury. Diseases like diabetes can also affect these nerves.
Surgical procedures in the rectal area can result in muscle and nerve damage. This could lead to a temporary loss of control of your bowels. Surgery for haemorrhoids is an example of this type of surgery.
Treating Bowel Incontinence
Improve Your Stool Consistency
An important step towards treating bowel incontinence is improving the consistency of your stool. The ideal consistency is a stool that is not too soft and not too hard. A soft, well-formed stool is the best consistency.
The right stool consistency helps you sense when your rectum is full and needs emptying. It also helps to avoid straining when you go to the toilet. This ultimately helps in gaining more control of your bowels.
If your stools are usually quite loose, the following foods can help develop a more solid consistency;
- Boiled white rice
- White pasta
- Mashed potatoes
Be careful of foods that are high in insoluble fibre as they increase the speed of waste removal in the bowels, and cause softer stools. An example of insoluble fibres are the skins of fruit and vegetables.
The Bristol Stool Chart is used by healthcare professionals as a reference to determining stool consistency. You can use it at home to help get the right stool consistency and help relieve faecal incontinence.
Establish a Regular Bowel Routine
A good bowel routine avoids regular trips to the toilet, reduces straining and improves bowel emptying.
Here are some tips on establishing a good bowel routine;
- Try and sit on the toilet at the same time every day and only at that time. Even if you don't need the toilet, try and keep to the same toilet time' every day. This will allow your body to get into a routine and will aid in more effective bowel emptying.
- Avoid going to the toilet for 'safety sakes'
- Try to concentrate on when you feel the urge to go to the toilet. Pay attention to the sensation of when your bowel is full and needs emptying. Stay in control as much as you can. With practice, it will get easier.
Use Special Exercises to Strengthen Muscles
Simple exercises can be used on a daily basis to strengthen the muscles around the anus and rectum. Stronger rectal muscles lead to better bowel control.
The exercises are easy to do and can be done anywhere and at any time.
To do the basic exercises;
- Pretend that you're holding in some wind or are trying to prevent a bowel movement You'll feel the muscles around the anus contract. Hold this contraction for about 10 seconds and release
- Repeat this approximately 10 times
Another form of the exercise;
- Try and squeeze these muscles as hard as you can - repeat this 10 times Try to do each of these 3 times a day.By regularly doing these exercises, the muscles around your anus and rectum will get stronger, helping to reduce bowel leakage and incontinence.
Depending on the type of incontinence you have, medication can be an effective way of dealing with the problem.If you have frequent, loose stools, antidiarrheal medicines such as loperamide hydrochloride (Imodium) might be helpful.
Bulking agents such as Psyllium Husk Fibre are good when your bowel incontinence is the result of constipation. Sometimes these agents can cause additional wind and bloating, so it is best they be introduced gradually along with sufficient fluid intake.
Psyllium Husk is great for relieving constipation and preventing diarrhoea.Only try any medication on the advice of your pharmacist or doctor.
There are a number of bowel incontinence products on the market to help manage involuntary leaking. These products can help you prevent soiling your clothes while also help keep you fresh and confident.
They are best used on a temporary basis while you seek help to find the underlying problems, or are working on changing your diet or lifestyle.
They should not be used on a long-term basis.
Some of the more common continence products used are;
- Foam plugs that you place inside your rectum to help prevent leaks
- Absorbent pads that you can line your underwear with. These can be washable or disposable, depending on your preference
- Disposable Adult Nappies