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Fecal incontinence, also called bowel or anal incontinence, is the inability to control your bowels. It is the second most common pelvic floor disorder. People with fecal incontinence may feel the urge to have a bowel movement but may not be able to hold it until they reach the toilet. Or they may leak stool from the rectum.
If you have fecal incontinence, you aren’t alone. More than 5.5 million American men and women of all ages are affected, although it tends to be more common in older adults. Fecal incontinence is not normal at any age and can be treated successfully. This can lead to a significant improvement in a person’s quality of life.
Your physician will start by asking questions about your medical history. Then he or she will conduct a physical exam and order some tests.
Physicians have several tools to understand the cause of fecal incontinence. These include:
Anorectal manometry, which checks the anal sphincter muscles that keep stool inside. This test also checks how well the rectum works
Defecography, which shows how much stool the rectum can hold, how well it can hold it and how well it can empty itself
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is sometimes used to examine the sphincter
Other tests may be ordered to look inside the rectum or colon for signs of disease or damage that could cause fecal incontinence.