What's normal, what's not, and what is incontinence?
Everyone's bowel habits are different. Some people go every 2 or 3 days, others less often, and some people are as regular as clockwork and go to the toilet every day after breakfast.
If you go less than 3 times a week, you may be constipated. If you go more than 3 times a day, you may have diarrhoea. In either case, consult your doctor or other healthcare professional.
What's important is
- You go to the toilet regularly, whether it's 3 times a week or every day.
- The texture of the stool is neither too hard nor too soft.
- There's no discomfort, straining or pain involved with going to the toilet.
- There's no blood in the stool.
If you bowel habits change, especially if the change is sudden, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.
What is bowel incontinence?
Bowel incontinence is leakage of some kind from the bowel, or uncontrollable gas or flatulence that isn't caused by a one-time incident or infection and is repeated or continuous over an extended period of time.
Some people have symptoms such as a little bit staining of their underwear from time to time. Some people pass a lot of gas without knowing.
Others find themselves urgently running for the toilet. Some people are careful to ensure that they know where the toilets are when they go out. This is called toilet mapping.
Some people need to wear continence aids, such as absorbent pads.
In other parts of this website you'll find information about the anatomy, who to talk to and treatment options
Who will get bowel incontinence?
Women who have had children by vaginal birth, older people (up to 25% of those living in care 1), and people who've had trauma, such as an accident or surgery or a stroke are more likely to have bowel problems.
Conditions such as diabetes or Parkinson's disease can cause bowel incontinence. People who have an inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome can find themselves running for the toilet or having some leakage.
What causes bowel incontinence?
- Vaginal delivery
- Post surgery
- Accident or trauma
- Inflammatory disease
- Irritable colon (medically diagnosed irritable bowl syndrome)
- Neurological pathology, such as stroke or nerve damage
- Prolapse (organ slips out of place)
Bowel incontinence is not an inevitable consequence of having had children. It's not a normal part of ageing. There are treatments and management options available.