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Gut. 2002 Apr;50(4):480-4.

Prevalence of faecal incontinence in adults aged 40 years or more living in the community.

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.



Prevalence studies of faecal incontinence in the general population are rare and the impact of faecal incontinence on quality of life has not been previously addressed.


To establish the prevalence of faecal incontinence in adults in terms of frequency of leakage, degree of soiling, and level of impact on quality of life.


In a cross sectional postal survey, 15 904 adults aged 40 years or more (excluding residents of nursing and residential homes) were selected randomly by household from the Leicestershire Health Authority patient register. Participants were asked to complete a confidential health questionnaire. Major faecal incontinence was defined as soiling of underwear or worse with a frequency of several times a month or more. Respondents were also asked if bowel symptoms had an impact on their quality of life.


From a total sample of 10 116 respondents, 1.4% reported major faecal incontinence and 0.7% major faecal incontinence with bowel symptoms that had an impact on quality of life. Major faecal incontinence was significantly associated with a lot of impact on quality of life (odds ratio 12.4, 95% confidence interval 7.5-20.6). Incontinence was more prevalent and more severe in older people but there was no significant difference between men and women.


This study has confirmed that faecal incontinence is a fairly common symptom, particularly in older people. Faecal incontinence in men has received little attention in the past and the results from this study indicate that it is as much of a problem in men as it is in women while the level of unmet need in this group is high. Estimates of need for health care for this symptom should be multidimensional and assess both the severity of symptoms and the impact it has on quality of life.

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