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Overview - Bowel incontinence

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 cannot control
  • you soil yourself without realising you needed the toilet
  • you sometimes leak poo – for example, when you fart
  • it happens every day or from time to time – a one-off "accident" when you're ill with diarrhoea is not 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, farting or bloating.

When to get medical advice

See a GP if you have difficulty controlling your bowels. Do not be embarrassed about talking to someone about it.

Remember that:

  • 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 will probably not 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.

Treatments for bowel incontinence

Treatment can help improve bowel 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:

  • incontinence 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
  • pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles used to control your bowels

Surgery may be considered if other treatments do not help.

Read more about treatments for bowel incontinence

Causes

There are lots of possible causes of bowel incontinence. Often it's caused by a combination of problems.

Causes of bowel incontinence include:

Do not try to self-diagnose the cause of your problems. Get medical help so the underlying cause can be identified and treated.

More information

For more advice, information and support, see:

Video: Bowel incontinence

In this video, an expert explains the condition. Bowel or faecal incontinence is more widespread than you might think.

Media last reviewed: 10 May 2018
Media review due: 9 May 2021

Page last reviewed: 04 March 2021
Next review due: 04 March 2024