How to Manage Bathroom Accidents

It's an unfortunate fact of life for some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who have severe diarrhea with their flare-ups: bathroom accidents and fecal soiling. We have to face it — these things can and do happen to people who have Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. But it's not just people with the digestive disease — bathroom accidents can even happen to people who don’t have IBD. 

Having an accident can shake you to the very core. It can make you question your ability to be a productive person, and may leave you feeling as though you can never leave your house or your comfort zone. The good news is that there are things that you can do to manage bathroom accidents. You do not have to stay inside your house for fear of having an accident. Learn how to put a plan in place to help yourself in the event that you do have an accident, and then start living your life.

Prepare an Emergency Kit

A woman with her filled purse between her feet

Xenia / Morguefile

The best way to deal with bathroom accidents is to be prepared before it ever occurs. The way you prepare will depend largely on your lifestyle, but there are some rules of thumb you can follow. Having an emergency kit is a great start. You can keep your emergency kit wherever it will be most advantageous to you. For some, that could mean in a desk drawer, or for others, it could mean a school locker or the trunk of a car. Wherever you keep your emergency kit, it should be readily accessible to you in an emergency, and preferably private (such as a locked drawer). Your kit will contain items that are most specifically helpful to you, but in general, it should contain a change of underclothes, soap, wet wipes, stain remover wipes, and possibly a washcloth or towel. If you have the space, add a pair of dark pants and incontinence underwear for extra protection. Don't forget a plastic bag for soiled garments. Put your emergency kit items in a nondescript bag or backpack — something you can grab in a hurry if you need to dash to the restroom.

Have a Plan in Place

You have your emergency kit in place, now you need to make a plan as to what you’re going to do if you have an accident while you’re at work or at school. One idea is to have a trusted confidant be available to help you. This could be a classmate, a teacher, a co-worker, a supervisor — anyone who will be helpful to you in a hurry. This person can help you get to a restroom and run interference for you with others while you get cleaned up. Another idea is to have your actions in an emergency already planned out. Scout out restroom options. Maybe your work or school has a gym with changing rooms and showers. You should know how you are going to get to your emergency kit, where you are going to go in order to get cleaned up, and what you are going to tell your boss or your teacher about your absence. You may want to have different plans in place depending on the scenario, and where you are at the time. Even if you never use your plan, it will go a long way to reducing your stress if you have one already in place.

Don’t Panic

It’s easy to panic when a bathroom accident happens. You may react by becoming frozen in place or even feeling the need to flee and run away. You may also be in some discomfort (or even significant pain) from your IBD. This, understandably, can leave you feeling very panicked and unsure what to do next. What you need to do, however, is put your action plans into place, and use a stress-reducing technique to get your racing mind under control. You hopefully have some stress-reducing plans already in place for use on an everyday basis, which could be anything from deep breathing exercises to visualization. If you don’t currently have a stress-reducing plan in place, now is the time to start one, and include it into your bathroom accident emergency plan.

Should You See Your Healthcare Provider?

If you are having trouble making it to the bathroom, you should talk to your gastroenterologist about it. If it's a rare occurrence that a serious bout of IBD-related diarrhea leads to fecal soiling, the best way to prevent further incidents is probably to get the IBD under control. However, if uncontrollable diarrhea is happening on a frequent basis and you find yourself truly unable to get away from a toilet, see your healthcare provider right away. Your practitioner can determine if the problems you're having are due to more than just an IBD flare-up.

2 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. Atarodi S, Rafieian S, Whorwell PJ. Faecal incontinence-the hidden scourge of irritable bowel syndrome: a cross-sectional studyBMJ Open Gastroenterol. 2015;1(1):e000002. doi:10.1136/bmjgast-2014-000002

  2. Duelund-Jakobsen J, Worsoe J, Lundby L, Christensen P, Krogh K. Management of patients with faecal incontinenceTherap Adv Gastroenterol. 2016;9(1):86-97. doi:10.1177/1756283X15614516

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.