Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder and bowel, and may help reduce incontinence. To perform Kegel exercises, contract the muscles that you would normally use to stop the flow of urine. Then, hold the contraction for three seconds, and then relax for three seconds. Repeat this pattern 10 times. As your muscles get stronger, hold the contraction longer, gradually working your way up to three sets of 10 contractions every day.
If fecal incontinence is due to a problem that can't be completely corrected with exercises, medications, bowel training or surgery, you may still be able to gain better control of your bowel movements. You can start by making changes in your diet:
- Keep track of what you eat. Make a list of what you eat for a week. You may discover a connection between certain foods and your bouts of incontinence. Once you've identified which foods are problems for you, stop eating them and see if your incontinence improves. Foods that can cause diarrhea or gas and worsen fecal incontinence include spicy foods, fatty and greasy foods, cured or smoked meat, carbonated beverages, and dairy products (if you're lactose intolerant). Caffeine-containing beverages and alcohol also can act as laxatives, as can products such as sugar-free gum and diet soda, which contain artificial sweeteners.
- Eat smaller meals. Try to eat several small meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones, because large meals sometimes trigger bowel contractions that may cause diarrhea.
- Get adequate fiber. Fiber helps makes stool soft and easier to control. Fiber is present in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but don't add it to your diet all at once. Too much fiber suddenly can cause uncomfortable bloating and gas.
- Drink more water. To keep stools soft and formed, drink at least eight glasses of liquid, preferably water, a day.
In addition to managing fecal incontinence through changes to your diet, you can help avoid further discomfort by keeping the skin around your anus as clean and dry as possible. To relieve anal discomfort and eliminate any possible odor associated with fecal incontinence:
- Wash with water. Gently wash the area with water after each bowel movement — you can do this by using wet toilet paper. Showering or soaking in a bath may also help. Soap can dry and irritate the skin. So can rubbing with dry toilet paper. Pre-moistened, alcohol-free towelettes or wipes may be a good alternative for cleaning the area.
- Dry thoroughly. Allow the area to air-dry, if possible. If you're short on time, you can gently pat the area dry with toilet paper or a clean washcloth.
- Apply a cream or powder. Moisture-barrier creams help keep irritated skin from having direct contact with feces. Ask your doctor to recommend a product. Be sure the area is clean and dry before you apply any cream. Nonmedicated talcum powder or cornstarch also may help relieve anal discomfort.
- Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing. Tight clothing can restrict airflow, making skin problems worse. Change soiled underwear quickly.
When medical treatments can't completely eliminate incontinence, products such as absorbent pads and disposable underwear can help you better manage the problem. You can purchase incontinence products at drugstores, supermarkets and medical supply stores. If you use pads or adult diapers, be sure they have an absorbent wicking layer on top. Products with this layer wick moisture away from your skin.