Bowel leakage is often the result of the stretching or damage of the rectal muscles that occurs during childbirth. Often, symptoms don’t appear until later. This occurs because the stretched muscles continue to weaken over time, eventually leading to bowel incontinence.
Hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome can also cause bowel leakage, as can health conditions that interfere with nerve function such as stroke or muscular sclerosis. And pelvic surgery, radiation and certain medications are treatment therapies linked to the condition.
Some women experience only minor leakage of liquid stool or gas leading to fecal spotting on underwear,while more severe cases result in the involuntary passage of formed stool. Diarrhea, constipation and an urgent need to empty the bowels are other symptoms that may accompany bowel leakage.
Fecal incontinence can be an embarrassing topic, but it is important to be completely honest with your gynecologist about your symptoms. Correctly diagnosing the cause of bowel leakage is based in parton medical history and symptoms.
A physical examination of the vagina, rectum and anus will also be done to evaluate muscle tone and check nerve reflexes. Gynecologists may also use the following diagnostic tests to determine the cause of bowel leakage:
- Stool tests –may be done to rule out infection or parasitic conditions responsible for stool leakage
- Protoscopy or anoscopy – a scope or tube is passed through the rectum to examine the anal canal and colon
- Defecography – an x-ray of the anal canal and rectum performed during defecation
- Nerve studies – tests performed to check for nerve damage of the rectal sphincter muscles
- Ultrasound – to check the rectal area for abnormalities
Depending on the cause, bowel leakage treatment may resolve with dietary and lifestyle changes such as increasing daily exercise, avoiding certain food products like dairy and gluten that can cause bowel problems, and increasing fiber intake.
Other treatments your gynecologist may suggest include Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, bowel retraining to promote daily bowel movements, medication to treat prevent bowel movements, sacral nerve stimulation and, in severe cases, surgery.
If you are experiencing bowel leakage, don’t be discouraged. Talk with your gynecologist about the many treatment options available today.