What to Do If You Have Bathroom Accidents

Having a bathroom accident can be upsetting, especially if it occurs in front of others. Involuntarily passing stool is a recognized medical condition formally known as fecal or bowel incontinence.

Bathroom accidents can happen when:

  • You pass gas
  • You have an urgent bowel movement
  • 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.

A distressed man looking in the mirror
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Tell Your Healthcare Provider

It is estimated that between 70% and 90% of people who experience fecal incontinence don't tell their healthcare providers 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's essential that you tell your healthcare provider 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 coping with recurrent 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 or when you first arrive at a new place. If you're meeting people somewhere, you may want to arrive early so you can do this discreetly.

Anticipatory Anxiety

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

Watch What You Eat

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

This includes:

Increasing your intake of soluble fiber may be helpful, but be sure to add it slowly to reduce the chance of unpleasant side effects, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

Take Care of Your Skin

If you're experiencing fecal incontinence, you may also have significant irritation of the skin surrounding the anus.

To help reduce the discomfort:

  • Wash the area with soap or an alcohol-free flushable wipe
  • Treat the area with talcum powder or ask your healthcare provider about an appropriate ointment
  • Make sure to wear cotton undergarments to help the area stay dry
  • Take a sitz bath

You should know that there are treatments that can help prevent you from having fecal incontinence.

What Not to Do

You may be doing things that inadvertently add to the problem.

Make sure to avoid:

  • Squeezing: Fear of an accident can make you tense the muscles around your rectum, which can cause muscle fatigue, weakness, pain, and cramping. That can contribute to sphincter dysfunction and incontinence.
  • Starving yourself: You'll continue passing stool even if you don't eat, as your body has to pass saliva, stomach acid, bile, and by-products of gut bacteria. Instead, encourage healthy gut function by eating small, frequent meals.
  • Restricting your activities: It's understandable to stay home for fear of a soiling accident, but this can lead to social isolation and depression. Being prepared can help you continue doing the things you enjoy.
10 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. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms and causes of fecal incontinence.

  2. Brown HW, Guan W, Schmuhl NB, Smith PD, Whitehead WE, Rogers RG. If we don't ask, they won't tell: Screening for urinary and fecal incontinence by primary care providersJ Am Board Fam Med. 31(5):774–782. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2018.05.180045

  3. Brochard C, Chambaz M, Ropert A, et al. Quality of life in 1870 patients with constipation and/or fecal incontinence: Constipation should not be underestimatedClin Res Hepatol Gastroenterol. 43(6):682–687. doi:10.1016/j.clinre.2019.02.011

  4. Norton C, Dibley LB, Bassett P. Faecal incontinence in inflammatory bowel disease: associations and effect on quality of lifeJ Crohns Colitis. 7(8):e302–e311. doi:10.1016/j.crohns.2012.11.004

  5. National Association for Continence. Spinal cord injury.

  6. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Pelvic floor disorders: Frequently asked questions.

  7. UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Stress and the gut.

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

  9. University of California San Francisco Department of Surgery. Fecal incontinence.

  10. Yip SO, Dick MA, McPencow AM, Martin DK, Ciarleglio MM, Erekson EA. The association between urinary and fecal incontinence and social isolation in older womenAm J Obstet Gynecol. 208(2):146.e1–146.e1467. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.11.010

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.