Few women talk about fecal incontinence, and understandably so. Despite its ability to ruin the quality of their life and force them to drop out of the daily activities they enjoy, bowel habits aren’t a typical part of daily conversation, and few problems are as embarrassing as fecal incontinence.
Though it probably doesn’t ease your embarrassment, it may help to know that at least 15% of women over the age of 40 struggle with fecal incontinence. Your risk nearly triples as you get older thanks to the hormonal changes that occur at menopause.
At Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery, Dr. Nina J. Paonessa offers compassionate and respectful care for women struggling with fecal incontinence. She offers this information to help you learn how menopause increases your risk.
Women’s risk factors for fecal incontinence
Women have two unique risk factors for fecal incontinence. The first is vaginal delivery. Any vaginal delivery can stretch, tear, or weaken the anal sphincter muscles that control bowel movements. During a vaginal delivery, the nerves that control these critical muscles may also be injured.
Your risk of muscle problems increases with multiple vaginal deliveries, prolonged labor, and for vaginal deliveries assisted by forceps or vacuum devices. Having a baby facing the front of your body rather than the back can also cause additional tissue damage.
You may not have a serious enough muscle injury to notice any changes after delivering your baby. It can take decades for the problem to appear. Symptoms of fecal incontinence finally develop when the earlier muscle damage worsens as you reach the second unique risk factor: menopause.
Postmenopausal changes lead to fecal incontinence
You already know that estrogen is important for regulating your menstrual cycles and having babies. But you may not be aware that estrogen has a wide-reaching effect throughout your body.
For example, estrogen directly affects your brain, where it influences mood and memory. It keeps your bones strong and your skin pliable.
Estrogen is also essential for maintaining muscle strength and mass. And the hormone regulates collagen production, which keeps the supporting connective tissues strong.
When you reach menopause and your estrogen levels drop, all the muscles in your body weaken, including the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles that attach to your pubic bone in the front and your tailbone on the backside.
These muscles form a swing-like structure that supports your rectum, bladder, uterus, and vagina. The anal (and urinary) sphincter muscles are also part of the pelvic floor. At menopause, these critical sphincter muscles weaken and your chances of developing fecal incontinence dramatically increase.
Fecal incontinence treatment
No matter how embarrassed you may feel about fecal incontinence, don’t let it stop you from talking with us about the problem. We offer many different treatments that target the underlying cause of your incontinence.
In many cases, these simple treatments significantly improve your symptoms. They even stop fecal incontinence for about 20% of women.
When you need more than simple therapies, Dr. Paonessa has extensive experience performing more advanced treatments, such as nerve stimulation, radiofrequency ablation, and surgery.
Don’t wait to get help for fecal incontinence. If you live near our offices in Brielle and Manahawkin, New Jersey, call us at Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery to schedule a consultation today.