Understanding Bowel Incontinence

What is bowel incontinence?

From anal leakage after bowel movements to leaking loose stool every day – conditions can vary

Some people with bowel incontinence can have anal leakage after bowel movement or loose stool every day. Others may have accidents now and again. No matter how frequent, bowel incontinence is difficult to live with. 

Understanding your condition

Bowel incontinence (doctors may refer to this as “Fecal Incontinence” or “FI”) happen when someone loses control of the passage of solid or loose stool (waste matter). They can range from the loss of an entire solid bowel movement to the loss of a small amount of liquid waste. 

Any of the following may occur:

  • Having an accident before getting to the bathroom

  • Passing stool during normal everyday activities

  • Passing fecal matter while passing gas

  • Not being able to hold in gas

  • Difficulty staying clean

This condition can affect quality of life, limiting activities and impacting relationships. Some people with bowel incontinence feel sad and depressed. They may not want to leave their house at all for fear of having an accident. 

You are not alone

Recent research shows that up to 18% of the general population worldwide suffer from bowel incontinence.1 However, due to the shame and emotional toll of this condition- many people avoid seeking treatment, and the number of cases is likely higher.2

Medical experts consider fecal incontinence a common problem, affecting 1 in 3 people who see a primary health care provider.3 Bowel incontinence is more common in older adults, commonly affecting:

  • 7-15% of adults who are not in hospitals or nursing home3

  • 18-33%  of adults who are in hospitals4

  • 50-70% of adults who are in nursing homes5

Bowel control problems are not a normal part of aging- they affect men and women of all ages, races and backgrounds. Bowel incontinence is a medical condition that can be treated by a doctor- but many people are too ashamed to talk to their doctors about it. 




Learn tips for talking with your doctor about bowel incontinence.


  1. Paquette IM, Varma MG, Kaiser AM, Steele SR, Rafferty JF. The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons’ Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Fecal Incontinence. Dis Colon Rectum. 2015;58:623–636.

  2. Irwin T, Snow AR, Orton TS, Elliot C. Endoscopic, ultrasonographic, and histologic descriptions of dextranomer/hyaluronic acid in a case of fecal incontinence. Case Reports in Pathology. 2018.

  3. Whitehead WE, Palsson OS, Simren M. Treating fecal incontinence: an unmet need in primary care medicine. North Carolina Medical Journal. 2016;77(3):211-215.

  4. Rao SS, Bharucha AE, Chiarioni G, et al. Anorectal disorders. Gastroenterology. 2016;150(6):1430-1442.

  5. Bharucha AE, Dunivan G, Goode PS, et al. Epidemiology, pathophysiology, and classification of fecal incontinence: state of the science summary for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) workshop. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015;110(1):127–136.