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Symptoms and causes of fecal incontinence

Involuntary defecation is called fecal incontinence (anal incontinence, bowel incontinence). Patients cannot retain gas and/or stool voluntarily in the rectum. Symptoms and problems depend on the underlying cause and the severity of fecal incontinence.

What are the symptoms of fecal incontinence?

Fecal incontinence ranges from an uncontrolled passing of gas or leakage of watery stool to complete loss of bowel control. Depending on the type of fecal incontinence, patients may or may not have an urge to defecate.

What are possible causes of fecal incontinence?

Fecal incontinence is often seen in elderly patients due to reduced muscle mass and strength of the pelvic floor. There are many other causes of insufficient control of the anal canal and the anal sphincter.

Chronic constipation

An accumulation of hard stool in the rectum allows only watery stool to pass which then leaks in hardly controllable drops.

Loss of storage capacity in the rectum

Disorders are caused by injury of the sphincter after surgery (e.g. removal of a rectal tumor) or chronic-inflammatory bowel disease.

Sensory fecal incontinence

Sensitivity of the sensory nerves of the mucous membrane of the anal canal is disturbed. Patients often have the urge to defecate too late or not at all.

Muscular fecal incontinence

The function of the sphincter is impaired. This is often caused by injury after childbirth (perineal rupture) or surgery. Muscle and connective tissue weakness aggravate a weak pelvic floor; obesity may also play a role.

Neurogenic fecal incontinence

Signal transmission of the central or peripheral nervous system is disturbed. Voluntary control of defecation is partially impossible for instance after stroke, in cases of multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury (tbi) or incomplete tetraplegia.


This article contains only general information and must not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. This information does not replace medical advice.