What causes incontinence?
There are many causes of incontinence. Injury during childbirth is one of the most common causes. These injuries may cause a separation in the anal muscles and decrease in muscle strength. The nerves supplying the anal muscles may also be injured. While some injuries may be recognized immediately following childbirth, many others may go unnoticed and not become a problem until later in life. In these situations, past childbirth may not be recognized as the cause of incontinence.
Anal operations or injury to the tissue surrounding the anal region similarly can damage the anal muscles and hinder bowel control. Infections around the anal area may destroy muscle tissue leading to problems of incontinence. In addition, as people age, they experience loss of strength in the anal muscles. As a result, a minor problem in a younger person may become more significant later in life.
Diarrhea may be associated with a feeling of urgency or stool leakage due to the frequent liquid stools passing through the anal opening. If bleeding accompanies lack of bowel control, consult your physician. These symptoms may indicate inflammation within the colon (colitis), a rectal tumor, or rectal prolapse – all conditions that require prompt evaluation by a physician.
How is the cause of incontinence determined?
An initial discussion of the problem with your physician will help establish the degree of control difficulty and its impact on your lifestyle.
Many clues to the origin of incontinence may be found in patient histories. For example, a woman’s history of past childbirths is very important. Multiple pregnancies, large weight babies, forceps deliveries, or episiotomies may contribute to muscle or nerve injury at the time of childbirth. In some cases, medical illnesses and medications play a role in problems with control.
A physical exam of the anal region should be performed. It may readily identify an obvious injury to the anal muscles. Causes of incontinence:
- Obstetric injuries
- Injury to anal muscles
- Anal infections
- Diminished muscle strength with age
Frequently, additional studies are required to define the anal area more completely. In a test called manometry, a small catheter is placed into the anus to record pressure as patients relax and tighten the anal muscles. This test can demonstrate how weak or strong the muscle really is. A separate test may also be conducted to determine if the nerves that go to the anal muscles are functioning properly. In addition, an ultrasound probe can be used within the anal area to provide a picture of the muscles and show areas in which the anal muscles have been injured.
What can be done to correct the problem?
After a careful history, physical examination and testing to determine the cause and severity of the problem, treatment can be addressed. Mild problems may be treated very simply with dietary changes and the use of some constipating medications. Your physician also may recommend simple home exercises that may strengthen the anal muscles to help in mild cases.
In other cases, biofeedback can be used to help patients sense when stool is ready to be evacuated and help strengthen the muscles. Injuries to the anal muscles may be repaired with surgery. Diseases which cause inflammation in the rectum, such as colitis, may contribute to anal control problems. Treating these diseases also may eliminate or improve symptoms of incontinence. Sometimes a change in prescribed medications may help.
Non-surgical treatments of incontinence may include:
- Dietary changes
- Constipating medications
- Muscle strengthening exercises
Surgical treatments of incontinence:
In the past, patients with no hope of regaining bowel control required a colostomy. Today, this procedure is rarely required. Your doctor may offer repair of the anal muscle to improve its strength and control of continence. An alternative method which has increased in popularity due to promising results is the use of sacral nerve stimulation. In this surgery, your doctor may place a nerve stimulator to help boost the strength of the anal muscles and by so doing prevent incontinence.
Dr. Forstner implementing the new InterStimTM II system with SureSacnTM MRI technology. This MRI compatible device for fecal incontinence is the first recharge-free SNM system with full-body MRI capabilities. This incredible new incontinence technology allows patients the ability to live life their way! For questions or to schedule an appointment, please contact us at, 602-993-2622.