National Continence Helpline

8am - 8pm Monday to Friday AEST Talk to a continence nurse

Unable to hold bowel motions

Ask for help from a health care professional, or talk to your supervisor or care coordinator if:

  • the person looks unwell or has a pain in their abdomen (stomach) or anus (bottom)
  • the bowel motions look black, dark red or bright red
  • there is blood in the toilet bowl or on the toilet paper.

What is faecal incontinence?

Faecal incontinence is when someone can't control their bowel motions or wind (farts, flatus) from their anus. People with faecal incontinence aren't able to hold on when they feel the need to pass a bowel motion, which means they have to go to the toilet as soon as they feel the urge to go.

Faecal incontinence can:

  • be severe with major accidents, or minor with only their underwear getting smeared
  • include diarrhoea, constipation, wind and bloating
  • happen everyday or only occasionally
  • keep a person house-bound, or restricted to places where they feel they could cope with an accident
  • affect a person's work, social and sex life.

What can you do to help a person with faecal incontinence?

  • If they have a toileting or bowel management plan, make sure you follow it.
  • People with faecal incontinence may need to see their general practitioner (GP) or other health care professional to find out why they have this condition and what they can do to treat it.

Try to find our why the person has faecal incontinence

  • Check for any changes to their diet or routine:
    • Have they changed what they eat?
    • Does their diet include enough fibre? Arrange a dietitian appointment if you're not sure.
    • Are they drinking less than usual?
  • Have they started any new medicines? Don't change the medicines, but tell their GP if they get faecal incontinence.
  • If they have been prescribed any medicines for faecal incontinence by a GP or nurse practitioner, make sure they have taken them. Their health care professional may need to review the medicines.
  • Talk about their care with your supervisor.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

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This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.