What is fecal incontinence?
Fecal incontinence is the accidental passing of gas, stool or mucus from the rectum, including the inability to hold a bowel movement until reaching a toilet, as well as passing stool into one’s underwear without being aware of it happening. Stool (feces) is solid waste expelled from the body as a bowel movement and includes undigested food, bacteria, mucus and dead cells. Mucus is a clear liquid that coats and protects the tissues lining the digestive tract.
How common is fecal incontinence?
If you have this condition, you are not alone. Nearly 18 million U.S. adults – or about one in 12 American adults – live with fecal incontinence. 
What are the risk factors for developing fecal incontinence?
What causes fecal incontinence?
To hold stool and maintain continence, the rectum, anus, pelvic muscles and nervous system must function normally. You also must have the physical and mental ability to recognize and respond to the urge to have a bowel movement.
Some of the causes of fecal incontinence include:
Do I have to learn to live with fecal incontinence? Or are there effective treatments available?
Fecal incontinence may be embarrassing, but it is not a hopeless situation. Proper treatment can help most people, and can often eliminate the problem. But the first step in treatment is identifying the cause of the incontinence.
Is there anything I need to bring with me to my first appointment with the doctor?
Bring the following items with you to your first appointment:
What will happen during my first visit to the doctor?
During your first visit, you will be asked about your past medical history, any medications you are taking and whether you have any allergies. Your doctor also will perform a physical exam, which will include a finger exam of the rectum and anus to evaluate sphincter tone, anal reflexes and to check for any abnormalities of the rectal area. Your doctor may order diagnostic tests, which can help pinpoint the cause of fecal incontinence. Some of these tests may include:
Are there nonsurgical treatment options for fecal incontinence?
There are a number of nonsurgical treatment options your doctor may ask you try before suggesting surgery. Nonsurgical options may include:
If the nonsurgical treatments are ineffective, what types of surgical treatment options are there?
Treating fecal incontinence may require a surgical procedure to correct an underlying problem, such as a rectal prolapse or damage to the sphincter during childbirth. Some of the surgical options include:
Is minimally invasive surgery an option?
No matter what type of surgery you are considering, talk to your doctor about your options. Minimally invasive surgery techniques offer potential benefits compared with traditional abdominal “open” surgery, including:
The decision about which surgical technique is right for you is important. Your surgeon will take into account many factors before choosing which technique to use, including your past medical history, previous surgeries, overall health status and anatomy.
No matter which surgical technique your doctor chooses, it is important to remember that all surgical procedures involve some risk of complications. Before having any type of surgery, discuss all treatment options carefully with your physician. Understanding the risks of each treatment can help you and your doctor decide which option is best for you.
You don’t have to learn to live with fecal incontinence
There is something you can do about it. Fecal incontinence may be embarrassing, but it is treatable. Proper treatment can help most people and can often eliminate the problem.
But you have to take the first step, which is talking to a doctor who can effectively treat this condition.
Summa Health System surgeons Amy George, M.D., and Erica L. Laipply, M.D., take a multidisciplinary, team-based approach to caring for patients with fecal incontinence. Often, patients with fecal incontinence have problems with urinary incontinence, pelvic pain or pelvic organ prolapse, which may also affect a person’s ability to control their bowel.
Don’t suffer in silence any longer – make an appointment today to get the help you need. To make an appointment with Drs. George or Laipply, call (800) 237-8662.
 Whitehead WE, Borrud L, Goode PS, et al. Fecal incontinence in U.S. adults: epidemiology and risk factors, Gastroenterology. 2009; 137(2):512-517.