Bowel incontinence, or faecal incontinence, is when you have problems controlling your bowels.
It can be very upsetting and embarrassing, but it's important to get medical advice if you have it because treatment can help.
Signs and symptoms
Bowel incontinence can affect people in different ways.
You may have a problem if:
- you have sudden urges to poo that you can't control
- you soil yourself without realising you needed the toilet
- you sometimes leak poo – for example, when you pass wind
- it happens every day or from time to time – a one-off "accident" when you're ill with diarrhoea isn't usually a problem
- it's affecting your daily life – for example, it stops you socialising
You may also have other symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhoea, passing wind or bloating.
When to get medical advice
See a GP if you have difficulty controlling your bowels. Don't be embarrassed about talking to someone about it.
- it's not something to be ashamed of
- it's common and GPs are used to seeing people with it
- it's not something you have to put up with
- it probably won't get better on its own
- it can be treated
If you'd prefer not to see a GP, you may be able to make an appointment at an NHS continence service instead. Call your local hospital ↗ for details of your nearest service.
Treatment can help improve incontinence and reduce the impact it has on your life. The best treatment for you depends on what's causing the problem.
Treatments for bowel incontinence include:
- continence products ↗ – such as pads you wear in your underwear or small plugs you put in your bottom
- changes to your diet – such as avoiding foods that make diarrhoea worse
- medicines to reduce constipation or diarrhoea
- exercises to strengthen the muscles used to control your bowels – called pelvic floor exercises
Surgery may be considered if other treatments don't help.
Read more about treatments for bowel incontinence ↗.
There are lots of possible causes of bowel incontinence. Often it's caused by a combination of problems.
Causes of bowel incontinence include:
- severe or long-lasting constipation ↗ or diarrhoea ↗
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) ↗
- inflammatory bowel disease ↗ – such as Crohn's disease ↗
- severe piles (haemorrhoids) ↗
- childbirth or surgery damaging the muscles or nerves you use to control your bowels
- conditions that can affect the nerves in your bottom – such as diabetes ↗, a stroke ↗ or spina bifida ↗
Don't try to self-diagnose the cause of your problems. Get medical help so the underlying cause can be identified and treated.