What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the impaired ability to control gas or stool. Its severity ranges from mild difficulty with gas control to severe loss of control over liquid and formed stools. Incontinence to stool is a common problem, but often it is not discussed due to embarrassment.
What can be done to correct the problem?
Treatment of incontinence may include:
- Dietary changes
- Constipating medications
- Muscle strengthening exercises
- Surgical muscle repair
- Artificial anal sphincter
After a careful history, physical examination and testing to determine the cause and severity of the problem, treatment can be addressed. Mild problems may be treated very simply with dietary changes and the use of some constipating medications. Diseases which cause inflammation in the rectum, such as colitis, may contribute to anal control problems. Treating these diseases also may eliminate or improve symptoms of incontinence. Sometimes a change in prescribed medications may help. Your physician also may recommend simple home exercises that may strengthen the anal muscles to help in mild cases. A type of physical therapy called biofeedback can be used to help patients sense when stool is ready to be evacuated and help strengthen the muscles.
Injuries to the anal muscles may be repaired with surgery. Some individuals may benefit from a technique that delivers electrical energy to the skin and muscles surrounding the anus which results in firming and thickening of this area to help with continence.
In certain individuals that have nerve damage or anal muscles that are damaged beyond repair, an artificial sphincter may be implanted. The artificial sphincter is a plastic, fluid filled doughnut that is surgically implanted around the damaged anal sphincter. This artificial sphincter keeps the anal canal closed. When an individual wants to have a bowel movement, the fluid can be pumped out of the doughnut to allow the anal canal to open.
In extreme cases, patients may find that a colostomy is the best option for improving their quality of life.