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Most women would probably rather walk into a meeting with toilet paper stuck to their shoe than talk to their doctor about fecal incontinence. But if you don't discuss it, you won't get treatment - and that could lead to even more embarrassment in the future.
Fecal incontinence, or bowel control problems, is the inability to hold a bowel movement before getting to the bathroom. It affects 18 million adults in the U.S., slightly more women than men, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
"We see many women with fecal incontinence after childbirth," says Michael England, MD, a urogynecologist on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth. "Even normal vaginal birth can damage muscles around the rectum or nerves that control the muscles." Other causes include diarrhea, nerve damage, hemorrhoids and pelvic floor dysfunction.
Treatment for fecal incontinence is available, so overcome your fear of discussing the issue with your doctor and ask about your options. He or she will likely recommend conservative treatments first, including:
If these options don't work, your doctor might recommend surgery. "If it's determined that the nerves are working well and there is an obvious defect in the muscles, then a surgeon can go in and reattach the muscles," Dr. England says.
If the nerves are the problem, your doctor may recommend other options such as inserting a pacemaker device for your digestive system. "It delivers constant electronic pulses to the nerves, setting up a normal flow of signals to the muscles," Dr. England explains.
For a referral to a gynecologist on the medical staff at Baylor Fort Worth, visit FindDrRight.com or call 1.800.4BAYLOR today.
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