If you often soil yourself involuntarily, seek medical help instead of being embarrassed.
Many people with bowel incontinence
suffer in silence because of
the acute embarrassment of soiling
themselves involuntarily, often at
socially inappropriate times.
This can lead to social isolation
and even depression over time,
significantly affecting their quality
of life, said Dr Mark Wong, a senior
consultant at the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH’s) department
of colorectal surgery.
Bowel incontinence is the inability
to control one’s bowel movements,
leading to the soiling of
one’s clothes. It can be caused by
factors such as birth-related
injuries, injuries to the sphincter
muscles in the anus and neurological
disorders such as strokes.
Dr Wong dispenses advice on
coping with bowel incontinence
and the treatments available:
KNOW IF YOU ARE AT RISK
Bowel incontinence affects two
main demographics – women and
those aged 50 and above.
An SGH study showed that
people in these two groups were
three and five times more likely to
be affected respectively.
Prevention is not always possible
since even normal childbirth can
result in incontinence in later years
for some patients. Men with bowel
incontinence often have had prior
treatment for conditions affecting
the pelvic area or prostate, or had
SEEK TREATMENT EARLY
Many people mistakenly think it is
a normal part of ageing. In fact, you
should seek medical attention as
early as possible as treatment will
be more effective when the
symptoms are milder.
At least 200,000 people in Singapore
– 4.7 per cent of the population–
suffer from this condition.
Some patients live with bowel
incontinence for 10 to 20 years and
summon up the courage to seek
medical treatment only when their
symptoms worsen and their quality
of life is severely affected.
Following efforts to raise awareness
of the condition, SGH has seen
a 10 per cent increase in the number
of such patients each year since
Treatment starts with conservative
measures such as dietary modifications,
and pelvic floor exercises. About
two-thirds of the patients at SGH
have been treated successfully with
these measures. Most of the time,
treatment involves getting patients
backon their daily routine.
such as percutaneous tibial nerve
stimulation and sacral nerve
stimulation are available as less
invasive options, and have proven
to be quite successful.
Sacral nerve stimulation involves
the application of an electrical
current to a sacral nerve at the base
of the spine by a stimulator or
pacemaker inserted into the buttock.
Sacral nerves are the neural
pathways that control the functioning
of muscles in the pelvic area.
Stimulating the sacral nerve
helps to restore normal communication
between the brain and the
nerve, thus alleviating the symptoms
of bowel incontinence.
Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation
can be an alternative for less
severe cases. It involves inserting a
fine sterile needle at the ankle to
deliver an adjustable electrical
pulse that travels to the sacral
plexus via the tibial nerve.
However, total recovery is not
always possible with these outpatient
Surgery to correct the underlying
problem, such as rectal prolapse or
sphincter damage caused by
childbirth, is the last resort.