Is there an effective treatment for fecal incontinence?

Treatment for fecal incontinence depends on the cause and severity of the incontinence. It may include dietary changes, medication, bowel training, or even surgery. Usually, more than one treatment may be necessary to successfully control fecal incontinence, since it is a complex chain of events.

Dietary changes

Food affects the quality of stool and how quickly it is passed through the digestive system. One way that can help control fecal incontinence in some people is to eat foods that bulk up the stools, making them less watery and easier to control. By analogy, avoid eating foods that contribute to the problem. These include foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, which relax the muscles of the internal anal sphincter. Another approach, is to eat foods low in fiber to reduce the work of the anal sphincters. Fruits can act as a natural laxative and should be eaten sparingly. In conclusion, you can adjust what and how you eat to help manage fecal incontinence.

Keep a food diary

Note what you eat, how much you eat, and when you have an episode of incontinence. After a few days, you may begin to see the correlation between certain foods and incontinence. After you identify the foods that seem to be causing the problem, reduce your consumption of them to see if the incontinence improves. The foods that commonly cause diarrhea, and should be avoided, are:

  • Caffeine
  • Processed or smoked meat such as sausage, ham or turkey and spicy foods

What foods have fiber?

  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese and ice cream
  • Fruits such as apples, peaches or pears
  • Fatty and greasy foods
  • Sweeteners, such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and fructose, found in diet drinks, sugar-free gum and candy, chocolate, and fruit juices.

Eat smaller meals and more often

In some people, large meals cause bowel contractions that lead to diarrhea. You can eat the same amount of food in a day, but in several small meals.

Eat and drink at different times

Fluids help move food through the digestive system quickly. So, if you want to slow down this propulsion, drink something half an hour before or after meals, but not with meals.

Eat more fiber

Fiber makes stools soft, and formed, making them easier to control. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, as listed below. You should eat 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day. But add them to your diet slowly so that your body can adjust. Eating too much fiber at once can cause bloating, gas, or even diarrhea. Also, too much insoluble, or undigested fiber can contribute to diarrhea. So, if you find that eating more fiber makes diarrhea worse, try to reduce portions of fruits and vegetables and remove the flakes and seeds from your food.

Eat foods that increase the volume of stool

Foods that contain soluble, or easily digestible fiber slow down bowel movements. Examples are bananas, rice, tapioca, bread, potatoes, apple, cheeses, peanut butter, peanut butter, yogurt, pasta and oatmeal.

Drink plenty of water

You need to drink eight glasses of fluids a day to help prevent dehydration and keep stools soft and formed. Water is a good choice, but avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol, milk, or carbonated drinks if you find that they cause diarrhea. Over time, diarrhea can reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals you get. Ask your doctor if you need vitamin supplements.

Which foods have fiber?

Examples of foods high in fiber.

Breads, cereals and beans
1 / 2 cup black-eyed peas, boiled 4 grams
1 / 2 cup beans, cooked5,5 grams
Whole grains, cold
1 / 2 cup of All-Bran10 grams
3 / 4 cup of Total,3 grams
3 / 4 cup of Bran Flakes Post5 grams
Whole grain cereal, hot
1 packet (oatmeal, Wheatena)3 grams
1 slice of whole wheat or multigrain bread3 grams
1 medium apple4 grams
1 medium peach2 grams
1 / 2 cup strawberries4 grams
1 medium tangerine3 grams
1 cup of squash acorns, raw2 grams
medium stem of broccoli, raw4 grams
1 cup of cabbage2 grams
medium carrot, raw2 grams
1 cup of cauliflower, raw2 grams
1 cup spinach, cooked2 grams
1 cup zucchini, raw 2 grams

Source: USDA / ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory.

Medication for fecal incontinence

If the incontinence is due to diarrhea, medication can help. Sometimes doctors recommend laxatives, helping patients have a more regular bowel-emptying rhythm. They may also recommend anti-diarrheal medications helping to slow down the bowel movement and better control incontinence.

Bowel training

Bowel training helps some patients learn to better control their bowel movements. In some cases, this involves strengthening muscles, while in others it means training the bowel to empty at a certain time of day.

  • The use of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a way to strengthen and coordinate the pelvic floor muscles and has helped several people. Special computer equipment measures muscle contractions as the patient does exercises, called Kegel exercises, to strengthen the rectum. In these exercises, the muscles of the pelvic floor are exercised, including those involved in controlling stool. The computer shows us how the muscles are working, if the exercise is being done correctly and if the muscles are getting stronger and stronger. Whether the biofeedback will work and produce results depends on the cause of the stool incontinence, i.e., how severe the muscle damage is and the patient’s ability to do the exercises correctly.
  • The development of a regular programming of bowel movements. Some people, particularly those whose fecal incontinence is caused by constipation, achieve bowel control by training themselves to have stools at certain times during the day, such as after each meal. The key to this approach is persistence, as it can take some time to develop a regular pattern. Try not to get frustrated or give up if you don’t get immediate results.