Fecal Incontinence: Definition & Causes

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  • 0:01 Fecal Incontinence
  • 0:43 What Is Fecal Incontinence?
  • 1:09 Causes
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Most of us can 'hold it.' Some people, however, cannot. That may be a sign of fecal incontinence. What this is and the primary reasons as to its occurrence are outlined in this lesson.

Fecal Incontinence

When you are young, you poop and pee your pants. That's pretty normal. No one really thinks anything bad about the fact that a baby has pooped its pants because it's expected. On the other extreme of age, when we get into our senior years, people over the age of 65 are also likely to have this same problem, which is called fecal incontinence. People younger than this can suffer from fecal incontinence, but it's not as common. In any case, this is a problem and is embarrassing since it's less expected and accepted by society.

In this lesson, we are going to look more closely at this issue and define what fecal incontinence is and some of its major causes in adults.

What Is Fecal Incontinence?

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control ones passage of stool. That means that a person who has fecal incontinence literally cannot control how much or even when they defecate through the anus. This problem is more common than you might think. Actually, about 1 in 12 Americans suffer from some sort of fecal incontinence, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on disposable underwear as a result.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

One of the main mechanisms behind fecal incontinence is the inappropriate function of the anal sphincter muscles, one of two muscles that control the evacuation of feces. This can most often occur due to a traumatic injury or a nervous system disease. Although the sphincter muscles are circular and close like strings around a bag, it's easier to think of the anal sphincter muscles as a gate at the end of a very long hose, your digestive tract. Once the gate opens, everything can rush out. If this gate doesn't work correctly, it can open at an inappropriate time, even if the person doesn't want to defecate at that moment voluntarily.

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