The digestive process begins in the mouth, where chewing tears food into small pieces. An enzyme in the saliva mixes with these particles and also helps digest the food.
The mixture then travels down the esophagus to the stomach where the food particles are further broken down by acids and enzymes.
From the stomach, food travels into the small intestine where water and nutrients are absorbed. Food then passes to the large intestine where more water is absorbed, leaving only the waste materials left over from the digestive process.
As these materials pass from the large intestine into the rectum, nerves in the rectum signal the body that it is time to expel the wastes.
The rectum contains two circular muscles, called sphincters, that control the passage of waste material from the body. Both the internal anal sphincter, which is an involuntary muscle, and the external anal sphincter, which is a muscle that can be controlled, must relax to allow the waste materials to pass.
Fecal incontinence is the inability to control the passage of waste materials, called feces, from the body. The most common cause of fecal incontinence is chronic constipation, which causes the muscles of the anus to stretch and weaken. Fecal incontinence can also occur as a result of disease or damage to rectal muscles and nerves. In some cases, incontinence can be caused by various psychological factors.
Treatment of bowel incontinence should begin with identifying the cause of the incontinence and taking measures to correct the dysfunction. There are a variety of treatment options, such as diet modification, biofeedback, bowel retraining and surgery. A doctor or healthcare professional can best recommend appropriate therapy.