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Diet and lifestyle can help tame your bowels

Community news | Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Contact: John Broom

Fecal incontinence is manageable

By Mark Cabelin, MD

Urologist, The Ashtabula Clinic

It may be a sensitive topic, but uncontrollable bowel movements can be manageable.

Fecal incontinence (FI), the sudden leakage of stool, can happen to anyone, especially if that person is suffering from diarrhea or constipation. It can also be frequent for someone who is intoxicated.

Doctors will diagnose adults with FI if they are unable to control their bowel movements more than once a month. While many may think that they only have control problems when they have diarrhea, fecal incontinence encompasses a range of physical disabilities and illnesses.

This problem has historically affected women and elderly of both sexes. It often goes unreported to a physician because patients are embarrassed to talk about it. It doesn't have to be embarrassing, however. And the sooner you talk about it with your physician, the sooner lifestyle changes and treatment can begin to alleviate the problem.

The good news is, there are a variety of treatments, that can all be done right here in Ashtabula.

Let's talk first about a variety of lifestyle factors that could be contributing to the problem. Should your problem be chronic, we can consider surgery, but medication, diet and lifestyle changes are very successful.

First, we'll discuss your problem so I can determine if it is fecal incontinence, and began as an illness or physical changes in your life. There are other conditions and illnesses that could cause uncontrolled bowel movements, so I want to eliminate those so we can focus on the best remedy.

I will ask you when the problems began, how often, how severe, if you detect a pattern, and if you have had other medical problems that could affect this.

For women, we'll discuss childbirth – whether you had children recently, or long ago. The birthing process can put a strain on nearby muscles and could be contributing factor to fecal incontinence later in life.

Dementia is also a contributing factor, so we want to rule that out as a possibility.

As you answer these questions, I will be able to determine if the problem is indeed in the lower part of your digestive tract, or if there are other factors.

We will use a variety of high-tech diagnostics to see if there is any weakness or damage to the muscles of the rectum, sigmoid colon or elsewhere in the colon.

If there is no physical damage to the rectum, a combination of medicine, pelvic floor exercise, nutrition and lifestyle changes can be very effective in helping you overcome fecal incontinence.

We have seen great success with these simple steps, and this can be controllable in the future.

If there is a physical cause, or if the above lifestyle options aren't working, surgery to repair the damage or to provide an alternate route for stool to exit your body may be an option.

In the meantime, you can:

  • track what you eat – to see if food affects your ability to hold your bowel movements.
  • do Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
  • keep yourself clean. If you do have leakage, it can lead to other discomfort and odor. Wash with water, but avoid soap or oil because it will dry out your skin. You can use flushable towelettes or wipes. Use powder or moisture-barrier cream to help keep skin from having direct contact with feces.
  • change your habits. Try to use the bathroom more frequently, especially when going out. Take a change of undergarments and body cleansing items with you.

Rest assured you are not alone in this problem. Fecal incontinence affects approximately one out of every 40 people in the United States. The good news is, you don't have to live the rest of your life worried about loose stools or uncontrollable bowel movements. Whether it's diet, exercise or surgery, I'll work with you to find the solution that is best for you.

Dr. Mark Cabelin is a urologist who is trained in fecal incontinence. For more information about fecal incontinence or any urological issue, or to schedule an appointment, phone Dr. Cabelin's office at The Ashtabula Clinic at 440-997-6970.