There’s an old saying that there are three things you should never discuss with acquaintances: politics, money, and religion. The thinking behind this belief is that those three topics are sensitive and volatile. You don’t want a friendly conversation to take a turn for the worse because you mention a contentious political race.

While not included in the saying, there’s also an unspoken belief that you keep your bathroom habits to yourself. It can be embarrassing to discuss your bowel movements, especially if you deem them to be unusual or abnormal. It’s for this reason that fecal (or bowel) incontinence often goes unreported. However, fecal incontinence usually requires medical attention. Use this blog as a guide to the numbers, causes, symptoms, and treatments of fecal incontinence.

Do you think you’re suffering from fecal incontinence? If so, come to the practice of Dr. John Macey in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Macey has more than 27 years of experience as an obstetrician & gynecologist and is board-certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He and the rest of our staff are proud to offer state-of-the-art treatments and compassionate care for women of all ages.

The numbers on fecal incontinence

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 18 million Americans are affected by fecal incontinence. That’s about 1 in 12 adults. Despite being so common, fecal incontinence is underreported for two main reasons: The first reason is it’s embarrassing to discuss, even with a doctor. The second reason is many people don’t know it can be fixed, or they believe it’s a normal part of aging.

Fecal incontinence is more prevalent among women and can be a complication of pregnancy.

Defining fecal incontinence

Fecal incontinence is a loss of bowel control that results in involuntary bowel movements, which can also be called fecal eliminations. It can vary in severity, from light leakage when passing gas to a total loss of bowel control. If you’ve ever had a severe case of diarrhea, you may have experienced a brief bout of fecal incontinence.

Although not usually dangerous, most people who suffer from this condition deal with it on a chronic or recurring basis, with episodes occurring daily, weekly, or monthly.


All fecal incontinence is not the same. Some patients feel a sudden urge to defecate and experience a bowel movement before they can get to the toilet. In other cases, they may feel the need to pass gas and realize they have evacuated a small amount of stool afterward. Other people may suffer from passive incontinence, which occurs when they are unaware of a bowel movement until it happens.


Fecal incontinence is often comorbid, meaning that it occurs because of or in conjunction with other diseases and conditions. Possible sources include:

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Nerve damage, including those from trauma during pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Radiation
  • Cognitive problems, including complications Alzheimer’s or a stroke
  • Muscle injuries
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Pelvic floor dysfunctions

Fecal incontinence may also occur on its own without any other conditions.


Thankfully, there are many cures for fecal incontinence. For mild incontinence, any of the following may help:

  • Anti-diarrheal drugs
  • Bulk laxatives
  • Dietary changes
  • Exercises, including Kegel exercises
  • Bowel training and scheduling of bowel movements

More severe cases of fecal incontinence may require surgery or minimally invasive procedures.

Dr. Macey has years of experience treating women who suffer from fecal incontinence and will work with you to create a custom treatment plan. He also specializes in surgeries, such as rectocele repair and anal sphincteroplasty, which can help women find lasting relief.

If you’re dealing with the symptoms of fecal incontinence, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with the practice of Dr. John Macey today.

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