Depending on the cause of bowel incontinence, options include:
- Anti-diarrheal drugs, such as loperamide hydrochloride (Imodium A-D) and diphenoxylate and atropine sulfate (Lomotil)
- Bulk laxatives, such as methylcellulose (Citrucel) and psyllium (Metamucil) if chronic constipation is causing your incontinence
Exercise and other therapies
If muscle damage is causing bowel incontinence, your doctor may recommend a program of exercise and other therapies to restore muscle strength. These treatments can improve anal sphincter control and the awareness of the urge to defecate. Options include:
- Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and bowel and, in women, the uterus, and may help reduce incontinence. To perform Kegel exercises, contract the muscles that your would normally use to stop the flow of urine. Hold the contraction for three seconds, then relax for three seconds. Repeat this pattern 10 times. As your muscles strengthen, hold the contraction longer, gradually working your way up to three sets of 10 contractions every day.
- Biofeedback. Specially trained physical therapists teach simple exercises that can increase anal muscle strength. People learn how to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, sense when stool is ready to be released, and contract the muscles if having a bowel movement at a certain time in inconvenient. Sometimes the training is done with the help of anal manometry and a rectal balloon.
- Bowel training. Your doctor may recommend making a conscious effort to have a bowel movement at a specific time of day, for example, after eating. Establishing when you need to use the toilet can help you gain greater control.
- Bulking agents. Injections of non-absorbable bulking agents can thicken the walls of your anus. This helps prevent leakage.
- Sacral nerve stimulation (SNS). The sacral nerves run from your spinal cord to muscles in your pelvis, and regulate the sensation and strength of your rectal and anal sphincter muscles. Implanting a device that sends small electrical impulses continuously to the nerves can strengthen muscles in the bowel.
- Posterior tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS/TENS). This minimally invasive treatment stimulates the posterior tibial nerve at the ankle. In a large study, however this therapy didn’t prove to be significantly better than a placebo.
- Vaginal balloon (Eclipse System). This is a pump-type device inserted in the vagina. The inflated balloon results in pressure on the rectal area, leading to a decrease in the number of episodes of bowel incontinence.
- Radio-frequency therapy. Known as the Secca procedure, this involves delivering temperature-controlled radio-frequency energy to the wall of the anal canal to help improve muscle tone. Radio-frequency therapy is minimally invasive and is generally performed under local anesthesia and sedation. However, this procedure isn’t always covered by insurance.
Treating bowel incontinence may require surgery to correct an underlying problem, such as rectal prolapse or sphincter damage caused by childbirth. The options include:
- Sphincteroplasty. This procedure repairs a damaged or weakened anal sphincter that occurred during childbirth. Doctors identify an injured area of muscle and free its edges from the surrounding tissue. They then bring the muscle edges back together and sew them in an overlapping fashion, strengthening the muscle and tightening the sphincter. Sphincteroplasty may be an option for patients trying to avoid colostomy.
- Treating rectal prolapse, a rectocele or hemorrhoids. Surgical correction of these problems will likely reduce or eliminate bowel incontinence. Over time, the prolapse of the rectum through the rectal sphincter damages the nerves and muscles of the sphincter. The longer the prolapse goes untreated, the higher will be the risk of bowel incontinence not resolving after surgery.
- Colostomy (bowel diversion). This surgery diverts stool through an opening in the abdomen. Doctors attach a special bag to this opening to collect the stool. Colostomy is generally considered only after other treatments haven’t been successful.