What to Do If You Have Bathroom Accidents

Distressed man

laflor/Getty Images

Having a bathroom accident can be humiliating, especially if it occurs in front of others. But this involuntary passing of liquid or solid stool is a recognized medical condition formally known as fecal or bowel incontinence. Bathroom accidents like this can happen when passing gas, when experiencing an urgent bowel movement, and when constipation results in loose stool that leaks around the hard stool. Experiencing incontinence of this sort can be very upsetting, but there are steps you can take to address this problem head-on.

Tell Your Doctor

It is estimated that only half of people who experience fecal incontinence tell their doctors about it, most likely due to feelings of shame and the stigma attached to this perceived loss of control. Don’t make this mistake. It is essential that you tell your doctor about your soiling problem to ensure that the underlying cause of the incontinence is accurately pinpointed and treated. Health conditions that can lead to incontinence include:

Be Prepared

A good rule of thumb for addressing fecal incontinence is to hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. For example, you can pack a small survival kit that contains personal cleaning products, adult sanitary products, and a change of clothes. Also, scout out the location of available public restrooms before leaving home.

Watch What You Eat

The foods we eat and drink can affect both the frequency and consistency of our stools. So, to prevent fecal soiling, you will want to avoid anything that would increase the speed of your bowel movements and cause diarrhea, such as:

  • Large meals
  • Foods and drinks containing caffeine, including coffee, tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products (if you suffer from lactose intolerance)
  • Sorbitol and fructose

Increasing your intake of fiber may be helpful, but be sure to do so in a slow manner to reduce the chance of unpleasant side effects of gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Take Care of Your Anus

If you are experiencing fecal incontinence, you may experience significant irritation of the skin surrounding the anus. To help reduce the discomfort, wash your anus with soap or an alcohol-free flushable wipe. After cleaning, treat the area with talcum powder or ask your doctor about an appropriate ointment. Make sure to wear cotton undergarments to help the area stay dry. If necessary, use a sitz bath.

Work to Reduce Anticipatory Anxiety

Worrying about having an accident can contribute to your odds of actually experiencing one, as the body’s stress response can stimulate diarrhea. Being prepared will actively reduce this fear.

What Not to Do

You may be engaging in behaviors that inadvertently add to the problem. Make sure to avoid:

Squeezing and straining: If your fear of soiling causes you to frequently squeeze the muscles around your rectum, you may increase your risk of experiencing muscle fatigue, weakness, pain, and cramping, all of which can contribute to a dysfunction of the anal sphincter and, therefore, incontinence.

Starving yourself: It is a common misconception that if you don’t put food into your body, nothing will come out of it, but it doesn’t work that way. People with little or no food intake will continue to pass stool of some form, as the body continues to produce saliva, stomach acid, and bile. It also passes the by-products of gut bacteria. A healthier alternative is to eat small but frequent meals on a consistent basis throughout your day to encourage healthy gut functioning.

Restricting your activities: It is quite understandable to be afraid to go out in public for fear of having a soiling accident. People who suffer from fecal incontinence often find it nearly impossible to contemplate engaging in the kind of activities that healthy people take for granted. However, this can lead to social isolation and depression.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) “Reporters Guide to Bowel Incontinence.”

  • Landefeld, C. et.al. “National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: Prevention of Fecal and Urinary Incontinence in Adults" Annals of Internal Medicine 2008 148:449-458.

  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) “Fecal Incontinence.”

  • Norton, W. “Talking to Your Doctor About Incontinence.” IFFGD Fact Sheet 316 2008.