Bowel Incontinence and Aging

At a Glance

Many things happen as we age that makes accidental leakage or a loss of bowel control more likely.

Illness, injury, changes in bowel habits and other factors affect the ability to stay in control.

Loss of bowel control is surprisingly common. It happens to a lot of people.

There are a number of ways to be helped.

This article will help you understand what is wrong and what you can do about it.

Continence, our control over when and where we go to the bathroom, is something most of us learn at an early age. We generally take it for granted – until something goes wrong. “Incontinence” is the word used to describe loss of this control.

Bowel incontinence occurs when the loss of control of gas, liquid stool, or solid stool is enough to cause discomfort or distress. Urinary incontinence is the loss of control of urine from the bladder. Bowel incontinence is a sign that something is wrong – some part of the bowel control system is not working as it should.

Having an episode of bowel incontinence can be very upsetting. People often feel so embarrassed when this happens to them that they do not tell anyone about it, not even their spouse or doctor.

It is common for persons who suffer this to go to lengths to hide the condition. As a result, they may stop doing many of the things they enjoy; they may experience a loss of personal freedom. They may feel many parts of their life slipping away – and they may not receive the help they need.

If you experience bowel incontinence, here are three important things to know:

  1. You are not alone – many people have this condition
  2. You do not have to just, “live with it”
  3. You can find help, and ways to treat and manage the condition

Causes of incontinence

Incontinence has many causes. It is not a normal part of aging, but as you age, you may be more at risk for the condition.

In order to maintain bowel control, the pelvic area must work correctly. If not, incontinence may occur. Injury or illness can cause a loss of normal function and bowel control. Physical limitations or disabilities, and poor general health are key factors that can play a role.

Nerves must function correctly to sense the urge to have a bowel movement or the presence of gas in the rectum. Muscles must function correctly to hold in the rectal contents.

Nerve damage that occurs in diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or stroke can play a part in incontinence. Injury, from accidents, pregnancy, or other trauma, can also damage nerves and muscles.

Conditions that strain normal function – such as diarrhea or constipation – may also cause leakage or loss of control. These are just a few examples. Clearly, many conditions that affect men and women may result in loss of bowel control.

The effect of age on continence

Diseases or injuries are not the only risks for incontinence. As you age, many physical changes will occur naturally. These changes have an effect throughout the body including on the organs, nerves, and muscles that control continence. Muscles will loose their strength, some nerves will function less well, and tissue and organs will loose some of their ability to stretch.

The bowel control system

Many things must happen in the body so that you know when you need to have a bowel movement (or pass gas) and are able to hold it in until you decide when and where to empty. The rectum is a tube shaped organ at the end of the colon that stores stool. As the rectum fills, it stretches to have room for the stool moving from the colon. You normally will feel when stool fills the rectum; you will have the sensation of the urge, or need, to have a bowel movement. Muscles around the rectum will tighten to hold in the stool.

If the muscles around the rectum are weak, you may feel a sudden and very strong urge and need to rush to the toilet. Stool may leak before you reach the toilet.

If nerves are damaged, you may not know when stool is present. The urge to have a bowel movement may not be felt and you make leak stool without even feeling it.

Seepage of stool may also occur if the muscles around the rectum do not work right. If the rectum does not stretch, it will not be able to store enough stool and incontinence can result.

Excerpt from IFFGD – click here to read more

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