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Faecal incontinence

Faecal incontinence is a term used to describe leakage from the bowel due to poor bowel control. You may also find you have excessive wind or experience staining of your underwear. Poor bowel control can be caused or made worse by a number of things including certain health conditions or medicines taken for other problems.

What causes faecal incontinence?  

Faecal incontinence is a result of poor bowel control. Factors that can lead to loss of bowel control include:

  • long term straining
  • medications, e.g. antibiotics, drugs for arthritis and diabetes
  • lifestyle, e.g. heavy lifting leading to weak pelvic floor muscles
  • weak back passage muscles due to having babies, getting older, some types of surgery, or radiation therapy
  • diabetes
  • bowel disease, e.g. Coeliac disease, Crohn's disease
  • nerve disorders resulting from MS and Parkinson's
  • severe diarrhoea, or 
  • constipation.
See the Bristol Stool Chart to see what healthy stools look like.

What should I do?

Visit your doctor or other health professional if you have concerns about bowel (or bladder) control. Difficulty with bowel or bladder control can be prevented, treated, better managed or cured. You shouldn't be embarrassed to discuss your bowel problems as many other people experience problems too.

The first step in improving bowel control is to have a full continence assessment carried out by a health professional. This assessment will take into account your medical history and current health, including diet and fluid intake, exercise levels and mobility, all the medicines you are currently taking, and any other factors that could affect bowel function.  An individual bowel program will be planned for you to help solve problems such as constipation, diarrhoea or faecal incontinence.  If your constipation problem does not improve, your doctor may organise more tests or refer you to one or more specialists in this area of health.

 You should speak to your doctor if you have:

  • bowel mishaps regularly 
  • a change in your normal bowel habits
  • pain or bleeding from the back passage
  • a feeling that your bowel is never quite empty
  • dark or black bowel motions, or
  • weight loss that you can't explain.

Incontinence is not necessarily a stand alone health condition and can be linked to many other major health conditions. In many cases, incontinence can be prevented by adopting healthy diet and lifestyle habits

If you are caring for someone with bladder or bowel problems, practical tips and advice are available to assist you with your care. Read more on caring with someone with incontinence.

Read more about faecal incontinence

We have a number of fact sheets available for download on bladder and bowel health. Visit out Resources page for a more advanced search or have a look at some of the popular fact sheets below.

Healthy bladder and bowel habits

Looking after your bowel: A guide to improving bowel function

Management of faecal Incontinence

Soiling in children

Caring for someone with incontinence fact sheet

Caring for someone with bladder and bowel problems booklet