Bowel incontinence—also called fecal incontinence—is a condition that causes you to lose control over bowel movements. People who suffer from this condition experience accidental leaking of solid or liquid stool from the rectum. This leakage can range from a small amount of seepage when passing gas to a complete inability to hold a bowel movement.

While more common in older people, bowel incontinence is not associated with aging. Twelve percent of adults suffer from this condition—almost 18 million people.

Causes of bowel incontinence include:

  • Irregular bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Nerve problems: can be caused by nervous system damage from injuries or disease
  • Muscle weakness or damage
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction: can be caused by childbirth
  • Lack of flexibility in the rectum
  • Other chronic medical ailments