How to Prevent Bathroom Accidents

A soiling accident is a distressing experience. "Going" before you can make it to a toilet produces a smelly mess and embarrassment that you do not want to go through again. It may provide some solace to know that such accidents are not as rare as you might think.

In fact, it is estimated that at least 5% to 15% of the population deal with fecal incontinence, the official diagnostic label for the symptom of soiling accidents. This number may be a low estimate since many people do not tell their healthcare providers about their symptoms.

Concerned Caucasian woman sitting on sofa
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What Causes Bathroom Accidents

There are a variety of things that might cause you to have a bathroom accident. Such accidents occur when you can't hold in stool until you get to the toilet. This could happen during an episode of diarrhea, in which the urgency or simply the looseness of the stool overwhelms the control of the sphincter muscles. Soiling episodes can also occur when you are constipated due to loose stool leaking around the hard, impacted stool.

If you have ongoing problems with fecal incontinence, it may be due to a structural or functional problem with the sphincter muscles.

Your risk of having bathroom accidents goes up as you age, and also for women after childbirth. Having inflammatory bowel disease or undergoing radiation in the area can also lead to fecal incontinence. It may also occur as part of other chronic system-wide illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

While you may be embarrassed, don't be afraid to talk to your practitioner. Healthcare providers are trained to deal with all sorts of symptoms that their patients find embarrassing. Discussing the issue with your practitioner will ensure that you get a proper diagnosis and treatment, as it may be the sign of an illness.

Your healthcare provider can also help you to develop a plan to address fecal incontinence or possibly discuss with you some medical treatments that might be of help.

Watch What You Eat

If you find that you are experiencing soiling accidents on a regular basis, you may want to start a food diary to see if there are some dietary triggers that might be contributing to the problem. Possible culprits include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy foods
  • Foods containing fructose, including some fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Foods containing high levels of FODMAPs

You may also want to make sure that you are taking in adequate amounts of dietary fiber to try to keep your stools solid but soft, and thus easier for your sphincter muscles to contain.

Learn to Relax

It is understandable that one would be anxious about the possibility of experiencing a soiling accident. However, anxiety may actually increase your chances of this happening, due to the close connection between your body's natural stress response and the functioning of your gut.

Luckily, there are things that you can do to turn off this response and to quiet your body so that defecation can be controlled until you are on a toilet. Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and calming self-talk can help you to quiet your body rather than escalate the sense of urgency.

Have A Plan of Action

One of the best ways to reduce anxiety about having accidents is to have a plan in place to cover all contingencies. Before venturing out, make sure that you know where you will be able to access a restroom, should the need arise. Tell any traveling companions about your unique health needs so they can help to facilitate a quick pit stop.

If you have had a problem with soiling in the past and think there may be a delay in your ability to get to a restroom, pack or wear an adult sanitary product. If necessary, bring along a change of clothes. Knowing that you are prepared for an unexpected episode will go a long way toward reducing the panic that can contribute to the sense of urgency.

Have Confidence

If you have only had one soiling accident and your healthcare provider has reassured you that you do not have a serious illness or physical problem, the odds are that there will not be a repeat episode.

You may be thinking that those odds remain high because you often get to the toilet "just in the nick of time." These experiences do not necessarily mean that you would have had an accident.

More likely, your body has done what it has been trained to do since you were little. For some well-needed peace of mind, remind yourself to have faith that your muscles will most likely do their job and keep things contained for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Benezech A, Bouvier M, Vitton V. Faecal incontinence: Current knowledges and perspectivesWorld J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2016;7(1):59–71. doi:10.4291/wjgp.v7.i1.59

  2. Wang JY, Abbas MA. Current management of fecal incontinencePerm J. 2013;17(3):65–73. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-064

  3. Nurko S, Scott SM. Coexistence of constipation and incontinence in children and adultsBest Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2011;25(1):29–41. doi:10.1016/j.bpg.2010.12.002

  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Eating, diet, & nutrition for fecal incontinence.

  5. Wald A. Update on the management of fecal incontinence for the gastroenterologistGastroenterol Hepatol (NY). 2016;12(3):155–164.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.