Accidental Bowel Leakage (ABL) is something no one likes to talk about. Even more so than urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence carries a stigma that is hard to shake. And yet, tens of millions Americans struggle with it on a regular basis. Today, we’re dispelling 4 common myths associated with accidental bowel leakage:
MYTH: ABL only happens when you have watery or loose stools.
FACT: While things like diarrhea can create a strong sense of urgency and may indeed lead to leakage, other factors may also be at play. Being constipated can be a cause of ABL too - when large hard stools get stuck in the rectum, watery stools can leak out around them. Regular bouts of constipation can also stretch and weaken the rectum, making it harder for you to hold stools long enough to make it to the restroom. To that end, any damage to the muscles or nerves around the anus can create an ABL issue. Things like childbirth, diabetes, stroke, hemorrhoid surgery, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injury all have the potential to cause ABL.
MYTH: ABL only happens to older people
FACT: While age does play a factor with ABL, leaky stools can happen to anyone who has had muscle or nerve damage to the anus, and can occur in people as young as 40. ABL is more common in our older population though, due to decreased muscle and tissue elasticity, which makes it harder to hold a stool.
MYTH: Diet doesn’t affect ABL
FACT: Diet can play a huge role in how and if you experience ABL. Everyone’s triggers are different - spicy food, fried and fatty foods, and food and drink with caffeine can cause problems for many. Additionally, eating larger meals can sometimes have a negative effect. Try using a bowel diary to keep track of your food intake and your bowel problems. This may help you to see a trend in your eating habits that are leading to ABL.
MYTH: There is nothing I can do to treat ABL
FACT: ABL can and should be treated. Watching what you eat, getting proper exercise (including pelvic floor exercises!), making certain behavior modifications, taking medication to address the issue are just a few of the things that can be done to combat ABL. Surgery to correct the problem may also be an option for you. The most important thing to remember is that you have options, and you owe it to yourself to seek them out by talking with your doctor.
Learn more about Accidental Bowel Leakage and available treatment options in our Conditions section.