Recent Blog Articles
Cardiovascular safety from prostate cancer drugs remains uncertain
Rising alcohol use among older adults
Easily distracted? Try meditation
Harvard Health Ad Watch: Can a wearable device reduce stress?
Listening to your hunger cues
Does your child need to bathe every day?
Can flavonoids help fend off forgetfulness?
Can physical or cognitive activity prevent dementia?
Wondering how much your medical care will cost? New rules could help
Long-lasting healthy changes: Doable and worthwhile
What Is It?
When stool (feces) leaks out from the rectum accidentally, it is known as fecal incontinence. Under normal circumstances, stool enters the end portion of the large intestine, called the rectum, where it is temporarily stored until a bowel movement occurs. As the rectum fills with stool, the anal sphincter muscle (a circular muscle surrounding the anal canal) prevents feces from coming out of the rectum until it is time to have a deliberate (controlled) bowel movement.
Various conditions can cause incontinence. The most common reason for incontinence is that the anal sphincter becomes too weak to hold the stool in the rectum. Alternatively, sometimes the rectum may start to lose its capacity to store the stool, or the person may be unable to feel that the rectum is full. Also, a person must be able to be aware of the need to empty the bowel, and be mobile enough to reach the bathroom in time. Diarrhea from any cause makes incontinence worse (since it is more difficult to control liquid stool than solid stool).
To continue reading this article, you must log in.
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.
- Research health conditions
- Check your symptoms
- Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
- Find the best treatments and procedures for you
- Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.Sign Me Up
Already a member? Login ».
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.