Fecal incontinence

Fecal incontinence is a condition where you are not able to hold your feces, or stool, within your rectum (the final section of the large intestine) until you get to a toilet.

About one in 12 adults has fecal incontinence. As you age, you are more likely to have fecal incontinence (although it is not a normal part of getting older). Women are also more at risk for this condition than men.


Fecal incontinence can be caused by a chronic illness, injury or surgery, including:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Large hemorrhoids
  • Injuries or diseases of the spinal cord
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Diabetes
  • Severe dementia
  • Extensive inflammatory processes
  • Tumors
  • Obstetric (related to childbirth) injuries
  • Operations involving division or dilation of the anal sphincters

Tests and diagnosis

To diagnose fecal incontinence, your doctor may recommend imaging tests. These tests may include:

  • Anal manometry - Using a thin, flexible tube, your doctor will check how well the muscles and nerves around your anus and rectum are working.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging - MRI imaging may help determine problems with the structure of your anus and rectum.
  • Anorectal ultrasound - Sound waves make images of the structures in your anus and rectum.
  • Proctography - An X-ray that helps your doctor find out how much stool you can store in your rectum and how your body handles stool.
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy - Using a flexible tube, your doctor will look inside your rectum and lower intestine for evidence of scars and/or inflammation.
  • Anal electromyography - Looks for signs of nerve damage in the pelvic floor and rectum.

Our approach

The gastroenterologists and colon and rectal surgeons at Northwell Health will assess your condition and its cause in order to determine treatment options. Patients with fecal incontinence may have to try a combination of treatments to manage the condition. These treatments can include medication, muscle training, biofeedback, biomaterial implants, electrical stimulation, or surgery. Always consult a physician to learn what treatment options are best for you.


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