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Gut motility, stool consistency and diarrhoea

Anyone with normal anal sphincter control could experience episodes of faecal incontinence if they have loose and frequent bowel movements.

If they also experience bowel urgency the likelihood of being faecally incontinent will increase.

A definition of diarrhoea is ‘passing looser or more frequent stools than is normal for you’.

Diarrhoea has many possible causes. Comprehensive assessment is required to identify the cause and inform the treatment of diarrhoea related conditions.

As we will explore in Week 6: Promoting Bladder and Bowel Continence, in the treatment/management of faecal incontinence, practical tips and dietary advice can help the individual to cope with the symptoms.

You may find the following websites useful in helping you to identify the causes of diarrhoea, both acute and chronic:

(Don’t forget to add details to your glossary).

Common causes of diarrhoea

The most common causes of diarrhoea are:

  • Medical conditions - irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, diverticular disease, chronic pancreatitis, bowel cancer, stomach cancer
  • Infection – viral, bacterial, parasites
  • Side-effect of medication – laxatives, antacids, laxatives, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, statins, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Reduced colonic absorption – following removal of part of colon
  • Dietary – high levels of sorbitol, lactose intolerance, food poisoning, excessive amounts of alcohol/coffee/fibre, food allergy
  • Anxiety/stress


1. Diarrhoea and vomiting. NHS website. [Updated 16 April 2018; cited 24 August 2018] Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diarrhoea-and-vomiting/

2. What causes diarrhoea? 3-minute read. healthdirect website. [Updated July 2017; cited 24 August 2018] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/what-causes-diarrhoea

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Continence Promotion: Effective Management of Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction in Adults

Association for Continence Advice

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