Types of Incontinence

Urge and Passive Bowel Incontinence -What You Should Know About Each Type

Bowel incontinence can present in a variety of ways. There are two primary types of bowel incontinence – urge bowel incontinence and passive bowel incontinence. 

Urge Bowel Incontinence

The most common type of fecal incontinence, the sudden urge to have a bowel movement, is when you feel a strong urge to have a bowel movement but cannot stop it before getting to the bathroom. If you have urge incontinence, your pelvic floor muscles may be too weak to hold back a bowel movement due to muscle injury or nerve damage.1 

Passive Bowel Incontinence

When you have passive incontinence, leakage occurs without you knowing it. Your body may not be able to sense when your rectum is full.1

Normal Bowel Function

The ability to hold stool, called continence, requires the rectum, anus and nervous system to be working normally. Two groups of muscles in the wall of the anus and rectum are responsible for holding the stool in the rectum, the outer muscle group (external anal sphincter) and the inner muscle group (internal anal sphincter).2

The process of a normal bowel movement begins when the rectum fills with stool. The brain then sends signals to the anus and anal sphincter muscles to either

  • Relax—which allows the rectum to release stool when desired, or

  • Contract—to hold stool in when a bowel movement is not wanted



  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts of fecal incontinence. Available at: http://niddk.nih.gov. Accessed September 13, 2019.

  2. American College of Gastroenterology. Fecal Incontinence. Available at http://gi.org. Accessed September 13, 2019.