Incontinence problems after a stroke are extremely common; it is estimated that about half of all people admitted to hospital after a stroke will experience some form of bladder or bowel control problem. However, many of these problems are not long term and can resolve over time.
There are two types of bowel continence problems that can occur as a result of stroke.
- Faecal incontinence - This can be caused by not being able to get to the toilet in time, damage to the part of the brain that controls the bowel or leakage of faeces due to constipation.
- Constipation - people who are less mobile are more prone to constipation. This can be caused by nerve damage, the effects of lying for long periods in a hospital bed, and/or by not eating or drinking as much as usual.
Why problems develop
There are several reasons why individuals may develop incontinence problems following a stroke. For example;
- If the person is not fully aware of their surroundings, they may be unaware of the need to use the toilet and may wet or soil themselves without realising.
- The stroke may have damaged the part of the brain that controls the bowel and/or the bladder.
- Someone with mobility difficulties might experience continence difficulties. They may rely on help getting to or using the toilet and might soil themselves before they reach the toilet.
- Someone with communication problems may not be able to tell anyone when they need to go to the toilet.
An assessment by a doctor or nurse is essential in finding the nature and cause of a person's continence problem and in devising an effective treatment programme.
You may be referred to a specialist or your local continence advisor. Continence advisors are specialist nurses, trained to help with continence problems and they can develop a plan specially tailored for the individual's circumstances.
A Physiotherapists can provide training and exercises to improve walking and transferring from a bed or chair to a commode or toilet.
Once the cause of the continence problem has been determined, suitable treatment will be offered. This may include:
- Sphincter muscle exercises can, if done correctly, help you improve your bowel control and resolve or improve leakage
- Medication can help decrease movement in the bowel or make the sphincter muscle tighter to avoid leakage.
Continence products, such as pads, pants and bed & chair covers, are available to help people manage their incontinence. Please visit our Products section which contains information and stockist listings which you may find helpful.
How you can help yourself
Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables which contain valuable fibre which helps bowel movements.
It is important to drink at least 1.5-2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid each day. Drinking enough is essential, without sufficient fluids, waste matter dries out making it harder to move through the bowel.
Keep as active as you are able to.
Try to use the toilet as soon as you need to.
Try to cut down on drinks which contain caffeine such as tea, coffee, cola and alcoholic drinks as they can irritate the bowel.
Further help available
This information has been provided in association with the Stroke Association. For more information and support about Stroke please visit the Stroke Association's website.
You can also contact them via their helpline number on Tel: 0303 3033 100
If you are concerned about your problem and it is starting to affect your day to day life make an appointment to see your doctor, continence nurse or specialist physiotherapist. A continence nurse and specialist physiotherapist are healthcare professionals who specialise in bladder and bowel problems.
You can also call our specialist helpline on 0845 345 0165 (24 hour answerphone) for medical advice, or call our office on 01536 533255 to find out where your nearest NHS continence service is.
Please use the link boxes below to find out about treatment and product options to help you manager your symptoms.
Last updated: 12/09/2013
Bowel Conditions and Symptoms