Lifestyle and home remedies
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and bowel and, in women, the uterus, and may help reduce incontinence. To perform Kegel exercises, contract the muscles that you would normally use to stop the flow of urine. Hold the contraction for three seconds, then relax for three seconds. Repeat this pattern 10 times. As your muscles strengthen, hold the contraction longer, gradually working your way up to three sets of 10 contractions every day.
You may be able to gain better control of your bowel movements by:
- Keeping track of what you eat. Make a list of what you eat for a week. You may discover a connection between certain foods and your bouts of incontinence. Once you've identified problem foods, stop eating them and see if your incontinence improves. Foods that can cause diarrhea or gas and worsen fecal incontinence include spicy foods, fatty and greasy foods, cured or smoked meat, carbonated beverages, and dairy products (if you're lactose intolerant). Caffeine-containing beverages and alcohol also can act as laxatives, as can products such as sugar-free gum and diet soda, which contain artificial sweeteners.
- Getting adequate fiber. Fiber helps make stool soft and easier to control. Fiber is predominately present in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but don't add it to your diet all at once. Too much fiber suddenly can cause uncomfortable bloating and gas.
- Drink more water. To keep stools soft and formed, drink at least eight glasses of liquid, preferably water, a day.
You can help avoid further discomfort from fecal incontinence by keeping the skin around your anus as clean and dry as possible. To relieve anal discomfort and eliminate any possible odor associated with fecal incontinence:
- Wash with water. Gently wash the area with water after each bowel movement. Showering or soaking in a bath also may help. Soap can dry and irritate the skin. So can rubbing with dry toilet paper. Premoistened, alcohol-free, perfume-free towelettes or wipes may be a good alternative for cleaning the area.
- Dry thoroughly. Allow the area to air-dry, if possible. If you're short on time, you can gently pat the area dry with toilet paper or a clean washcloth.
- Apply a cream or powder. Moisture-barrier creams help keep irritated skin from having direct contact with feces. Be sure the area is clean and dry before you apply any cream. Nonmedicated talcum powder or cornstarch also may help relieve anal discomfort.
- Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing. Tight clothing can restrict airflow, making skin problems worse. Change soiled underwear quickly.
When medical treatments can't completely eliminate incontinence, products such as absorbent pads and disposable underwear can help you manage the problem. If you use pads or adult diapers, be sure they have an absorbent wicking layer on top, to help keep moisture away from your skin.
Coping and support
For some people, including children, fecal incontinence is a relatively minor problem, limited to occasional soiling of their underwear. For others, the condition can be devastating due to a complete lack of bowel control.
If you have fecal incontinence
You may feel reluctant to leave your house out of fear you might not make it to a toilet in time. To overcome that fear, try these practical tips:
- Use the toilet right before you go out.
- If you expect you'll be incontinent, wear a pad or a disposable undergarment.
- Carry cleanup supplies and a change of clothing with you.
- Know where toilets are located before you need them so that you can get to them quickly.
- Use pills to reduce the smell of stool and gas (fecal deodorants) available over-the-counter.
Because fecal incontinence can be distressing, it's important to take steps to deal with it. Treatment can help improve your quality of life and raise your self-esteem.
Depending on the cause, it may be possible to prevent fecal incontinence. These actions may help:
- Reduce constipation. Increase your exercise, eat more high-fiber foods and drink plenty of fluids.
- Control diarrhea. Treating or eliminating the cause of the diarrhea, such as an intestinal infection, may help you avoid fecal incontinence.
- Avoid straining. Straining during bowel movements can eventually weaken anal sphincter muscles or damage nerves, possibly leading to fecal incontinence.