Constipation can be a common cause of bowel or fecal incontinence. That statement looks like a contradiction but is easily explained. When constipation occurs, the stools often become hard and impacted. It collects in your rectum and is too large for you to pass normally. This collection often stretches the rectum and intestines and weakens the muscles connected with them. Although you may not be able to rid your body of the large impacted stool, looser bowels that are backed up behind the hard stools may seep out around it and cause fecal incontinence. The nerves of the anus and rectum may become desensitized and not allow the fecal matter to be pushed through the rectum and eliminated. If your muscles are weakened, you also may take longer to pass the stools through the digestive system.
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Loose stools or diarrhea may worsen the symptoms of fecal incontinence. Obviously, harder stools would be easier to control but loose stools are not as easily controlled if rectum and anal muscles weaken. Muscle damage is another cause of bowel incontinence, especially in women. This is often caused by forceps delivery, and multiple pregnancies and births. Injury to the anal area may not show up for many years after the woman gives birth.
Nerve damage can be caused by childbirth, the need to constantly strain to have a bowel movement, stroke, or a spinal cord injury. If the nerves that control the anal sphincter are damaged, the patient may suffer from fecal incontinence. There are diseases that can cause damage to these nerves including diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
You may suffer from bowel incontinence if your storage capacity in your bowel is lost. The rectum normally stretches to hold the stool but if scarring has occurred, or the rectum walls have stiffened the rectum may not stretch as it should and leakage can occur. Surgery, radiation treatment, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel diseases can also cause the rectal walls to stiffen.
Surgery to correct other problems such as hemorrhoids may cause nerve damage to the anus and cause bowel incontinence. Other more complex surgeries involving the anus and rectum may also be the cause of leakage of stools. Rectal cancer is also a concern for those patients who have fecal incontinence. The cancer can invade the walls of the digestive system and interrupts the nerve signals that are needed to control bowel movements.
Other less common reasons for fecal incontinence include a condition where your rectum drops down into the anus. In women, the rectum may also protrude out the vagina and fecal incontinence can be the result. Hemorrhoids can prevent the closure of the important sphincter muscle and allow leakage to occur. Muscle loss can occur with age. Those ligaments and muscles may weaken as a person gets older and fecal incontinence can be the result. Another cause to be aware of is relying on laxatives to have regular bowel movements. Laxative can cause damage to the anal sphincter muscles and lead to fecal incontinence.