Faecal incontinence

What is faecal incontinence?

This is an inability to retain faeces on the rectum.

What causes faecal incontinence?

  • Faecal impaction — this is often caused by longstanding constipation. The faeces lodged in the rectum irritate and inflame the lining and faecal fluid and small pieces of faeces are passed involuntarily. This is a common cause of faecal incontinence in the elderly and in toilet-trained children.
  • Severe diarrhoea — this may cause temporary faecal incontinence. The need to clear the bowel becomes too strong to control.
  • Less common causes include injury to the anal muscles, paraplegia (paralysis of the legs and lower trunk) and dementia.

How is faecal incontinence treated?

If the underlying cause is constipation, a high fibre diet may resolve the problem. Suppositories (a solid, cone or bullet-shaped object that is inserted into the rectum) containing glycerol or laxatives may be recommended.

If the incontinence is caused by dementia or a nerve disorder, regular suppositories or enemas (fluid is passed into the rectum through a tube inserted into the anus) may be used to empty the rectum.