Lifestyle and exercises
Your healthcare professional will assess your condition with you and help you decide what lifestyle and exercise options are right for you.
Lifestyle changes, exercises and behavioural treatments used to resolve bowel incontinence are sometimes referred to as conservative or containment therapies by healthcare teams.
Above all, talk to healthcare professionals who can help you identify those elements of your diet and lifestyle that may be exacerbating your problem.
Continence care healthcare professionals, specialist nutritionists and dietitians can advise you about dietary changes that might enhance your bowel health or alleviate symptoms.
Artificial sweeteners can potentially affect bowel control
Make sure you drink enough fluids as it is important to overall health. The NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia) recommend a daily intake of 1 to 2 litres of water (6 to 8 glasses) per day.
Certain foods bother some people but make no difference to others. Increased fibre intake sometimes helps and sometimes makes things worse because it retains fluid in the bowel and makes stool softer.
Beer and other types of alcohol can cause bowel trouble for some people.
Caffeine can cause problems. It's found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and some chocolates. It can act as a stimulant in the bowel moving matter through the gut faster than normal. This can lower the bowel's capacity to absorb fluids and make the stool loose.
Artificial sweeteners can potentially affect bowel control by causing loos stools. They are found in low calorie foods and drinks.
Smoking is thought to affect the transit time of food through the bowel. Excessive weight is also problematic for the bowel and continence because it may place stress on the pelvic muscles. 1
Ensuring you get regular exercise can help in overall bowel health. Regular movement and exercise can be especially important to those living in residential care, or nursing homes.
Specific exercises focus on the anal sphincter muscle. These involve contracting and releasing the anal sphincter muscle. There are several different positions to do these exercises, such as sitting and lying down.
A healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist or continence nurse, will guide you through these routines and keep track of your progress.
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises or pelvic muscle rehabilitation, can also help alleviate incontinence. These exercises strengthen the pelvic area's overall muscle structure.
You need to do these exercises for at least 3 weeks to start seeing results.
Make sure you drink enough fluids as it's important to overall health.
Electrical stimulation is used for muscle strength development. Electrodes are put in the vagina or anus. They produce mild stimulation of the muscles with electrical impulses, which induces the muscles to contract and then relax. This helps tone the muscles.
Biofeedback might be recommended. Equipment measures the muscle contractions as you exercise.
This helps you identify when you're squeezing the right muscles and how much of a squeeze you are achieving. It can help ensure the exercises are done correctly.
There are different kinds of machines and some use sound and others visual cues (using screens) to tell you about your muscle contractions.
Healthcare professionals can help people recognise and regulate their bowel habits with behavioural therapy techniques.
You can train yourself to go at certain times of the day, such as just after a meal. Another aspect of bowel training is extending the period between your regular toilet times.
Disciplining yourself to only go at certain times of the day takes dedication. But this technique can help you create predictability in your bowel habits. You need to do this therapy for at least 6 weeks to start seeing results.
Reducing stress and anxiety about going to the toilet can also help. Emotional reactions can cause you to tense up, especially in the abdomen. This places pressure on the bowel and bladder.
- Committee 18, Bliss. D.Z. et al. Conservative and Pharmacological Management of Faecal Incontinence in Adults. Abrams, et al (eds) Third International Consultation on Incontinence 2004: Monaco; vol 1, p43