Although constipation and fecal incontinence are commonly encountered in older hospitalized patients, there is a paucity of clinical studies in this field. In this article we discuss the approach to and management of patients with these problems based on evidence and studies performed on patients in the ambulatory care setting, nursing home setting, and our experience. Our recommendations are applicable to older hospitalized patients. Successful management of these patients depends on identifying and treating underlying cause(s), such as infection, dietary factors, medication, or immobility-induced incontinence, constipation, or fecal impaction. For a hospitalized patient, a digital rectal examination should be performed to rule out fecal impaction and overflow incontinence. If there is no impaction but a weak anal sphincter, stool softeners or laxatives should be discontinued, as they cause diarrhea/fecal incontinence. In a patient with diarrhea/incontinence and suspected infection, management includes checking stool for Clostridium difficile toxin, E0157, ova and parasites, and culture. If the patient is on enteral nutrition, osmotic diarrhea-induced incontinence should be considered. Nursing care includes use of absorbent pads, special undergarments, anal hygiene, and skin care. Medications such as loperamide or diphenoxylate/atropine are useful for diarrhea with incontinence. Laxatives (eg, polyethylene glycol, lactulose), secretagogues (eg, lubiprostone), enemas, suppositories, and timed toileting assistance may be effective for constipation. Despite appropriate management, older hospitalized patients may remain incontinent because of dementia, immobility, or comorbid issues. Treatment should be tailored to the underlying mechanism(s) and needs of each patient.
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