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Fecal Incontinence Not Rare for Women

Study: 7 per 100 U.S. Women Affected; Many Don't Tell Their Doctors
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 25, 2006 -- A hush-hush health problem -- fecal incontinence -- isn't a secret anymore, thanks to a new study.

People with fecal incontinence have uncontrolled leakage of liquid or solid stools. It's an embarrassing, socially isolating condition that many patients never mention to their doctors, write the researchers.

Their study ends that secrecy. Of more than 3,500 women studied, 7% reported having fecal incontinence at least once per month.

Fecal incontinence can also affect men, but only women were studied by Jennifer Melville, MD, MPH, and colleagues. The study recently appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Melville works in the obstetrics and gynecology department of the University of Washington's medical school. Other researchers came from the University of Michigan and Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, a Seattle-area HMO.

Who's Affected

The researchers mailed surveys to 6,000 women who were members of the Group Health Cooperative HMO. The women were 30-90 years old. Nearly two-thirds completed and returned the surveys.

Fecal incontinence was linked to:

  • Older age
  • Major depression
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Greater number of births
  • History of births using forceps or a vacuum-assisted device
  • Past hysterectomy
  • Higher BMI (body mass index)
  • Other medical conditions

The study doesn't show what caused fecal incontinence. For instance, for those who were depressed, it's not known which condition came first.

Quality of Life Down

Half of the women with fecal incontinence said the condition had affected their quality of life, the researchers report.

Of women with fecal incontinence, 47% said they wore a pad and 53% said they had changed their lifestyle due to the condition.

Doctors should pay more attention to the problem, especially as America's population ages, write Melville and colleagues.

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