Digestive and Bowel Disorders

by Sam Malone

Digestive and bowel disorders affect millions of people every year. The symptoms that accompany these disorders can be classified into two types, fecal incontinence and constipation.

Fecal Incontinence: Fecal incontinence is characterized by the loss of control over one's bowels which leads to stools leaking out of the rectum. The functioning of the bowel is regulated by three factors. These are the pressure on the anal sphincter, the storage capacity of the rectum and rectal sensation.

The anal sphincter is the muscle that allows stools to pass out through the anus. Under normal circumstances it contracts and shuts, preventing the passage of stools. The rectum can expand and store stools for some time until the person becomes aware of its presence in the rectum. The amount it can expand defines how much matter it can keep in. Rectal sensation is the feeling one gets when one gets the urge to run to the bathroom.

Fecal incontinence results when any of these three governing factors get affected. It may be temporary when it is caused by problems such as diarrhea and will usually vanish when the underlying cause is treated. More serious are the other causes such as damage to the anal sphincter or the muscles controlling it. These require extensive treatment that may even include surgery.

People at risk of developing fecal incontinence include:

  • Women whose sphincter gets damaged during childbirth
  • People who undergo rectal surgery especially in cases of hemorrhoids and rectal abscesses
  • Older persons who suffer from a loss of elasticity in the rectum
  • Those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diabetics, alcoholics, tumors in the spinal cord and multiple sclerosis can all lead to nerve damage which can result in fecal incontinence
People suffering from fecal incontinence usually also suffer from other symptoms such as gas, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and the passage of mucus.

If you are suffering from fecal incontinence that persists, it is better to consult a doctor rather than trying to treat the problem on your own at home. A doctor will be able to make a proper diagnosis of the cause and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

Treatment for fecal incontinence will vary depending on the underlying cause.

  • Stopping or preventing diarrhea and forming a pattern of regular bowel movements are essential no matter what the underlying cause. To this end your doctor may recommend certain dietary changes.
  • Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits will provide you with an adequate source of dietary fiber and promote the formation of stools.
  • Keeping well hydrated is essential especially if you are suffering from dehydration due to diarrhea. Medications to control diarrhea such as loperamide (Imodium) may also be prescribed.
  • Surgery may be recommended in case there is damage to the rectum or the muscles controlling it.
Constipation: Constipation is a problem that affects millions every year and is more common in women. While almost everyone will experience constipation at some time or another, chronic constipation can cause serious problems requiring medical treatment. Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements, with stools that are hard and difficult to pass. In many cases, bleeding may accompany the stools. Left untreated, it may result in the formation of hemorrhoids, fissures and can damage the anus.

Constipation can be caused by numerous disorders. These include:

  • Poor dietary habits
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Dehydration
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Prolapse of the bladder or rectum
  • Diverticulitis
  • Damage to the nerves of the bowel
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Obstruction of the colon
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Central nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • The treatment for chronic constipation will depend on the underlying cause.

  1. http://bladder.wustl.edu/pelvic-floor-disorders/bowel-disorders/

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