Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Pregnancy

Font Size

Bowel Incontinence From Childbirth Not Cured by Surgery

WebMD Health News

Jan. 25, 2000 (Minneapolis) -- Most women have continuing or even new bowel problems after surgery to repair an anal sphincter that's damaged while giving birth, according to British researchers who published their findings recently in the journal The Lancet. Although the surgery typically corrects the problem initially, the problems gradually come back, so patients can have recurrent or new difficulties a few years later.

Anal sphincters are the muscles that coordinate bowel movements. They may be damaged during vaginal deliveries. As many as one in three women have some degree of anal-sphincter trauma during their first vaginal delivery. Women will present to their physician with soiling weeks or even months following delivery.

"[A]lthough most patients improve after the procedure, [bowel control] is rarely perfect," the authors write. Their study involved questionnaires and telephone interviews with patients who had had repair surgeries at least five years previously. The surgery in the study, called overlapping anterior anal-sphincter repair, is one way to correct the damage for severe symptoms.

"We're not opposed to [the] surgery," co-author Christine S. Norton, RN, MA, tells WebMD. "The right people [need to be selected.] Those with severe symptoms are more likely to be satisfied ... while those with mild symptoms are more likely to be disappointed." She is a nurse specialist at St. Mark's Hospital in Harrow, England; her focus is patients with bowel control problems.

In this 55-patient study, 38 patients were eligible for the analysis. Of these, none was fully able to control both stool and gas passage. Six of the 38 had complete relief from urgency, the inability to postpone a bowel movement. Twenty still required an incontinence pad and 25 said their bowel problems restricted their lifestyle in some way.

"[A] high proportion of women presenting with incontinence have structural sphincter damage," the authors write. Incontinence is the inability to prevent a bowel movement resulting in soiling. Incontinence pads are often used so daily activities can continue more easily.

Several factors can increase the risk of damage to the anal sphincter during birth. These include a forceps-assisted birth and a baby that weighs over 8 lbs., 14 oz. Another risk is a posterior presentation, in which the back of the baby's head presses against the mother's spine, also known as "sunny-side up." Episiotomy does not prevent the damage, the authors write.

Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

Today on WebMD

hand circling date on calendar
Track your most fertile days.
woman looking at ultrasound
Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
The signs to watch out for.
pregnant woman in hospital
Are there ways to do it naturally?
slideshow fetal development
pregnancy first trimester warning signs
What Causes Bipolar
Woman trying on dress in store
pregnant woman
Close up on eyes of baby breastfeeding
healthtool pregnancy calendar
eddleman prepare your body pregnancy