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Gastroenterology. 2004 Jan;126(1 Suppl 1):S106-13.

Incontinence severity and QOL scales for fecal incontinence.

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Division of Health Services Research and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455-0392, USA.


This article reviews self-reporting instruments to measure severity and quality of life in fecal incontinence. Severity instruments assess the frequency, type, and amount of stool loss and the impact of fecal incontinence on coping mechanisms and lifestyle/behavioral change. Non-weighted instruments use simple numerical totals to gauge severity; however, the use of vague quantifiers to describe severity can make the results highly subjective. In weighted surveys, every possible response (indicating the frequency of each type of incontinence) is multiplied by a weight that reflects the average severity assigned by a representative group of patients (or physicians), and the weighted responses are added to compile a total score. When variables such as coping mechanisms and lifestyle changes are included in severity questionnaires, the results tend to reflect patient functioning more than severity and should be interpreted cautiously. Quality-of-life scales assess variables that are not directly observable and are highly subjective. Quality-of-life scales are divided into 3 categories: (1) generic scales permit the measurement of gross change and compare the experience of the target population to other populations; (2) specialized scales are most useful in trying to isolate effects of specific variables, such as depression; and (3) condition-specific quality-of-life scales measure the relationship between specific medical conditions or treatments, and quality of life outcomes. Future research should focus on the need for weighting, further evaluation of the use of coping mechanisms as an indicator of severity, and how to integrate measures of urgency. In the area of quality of life, "modules" are needed that can be appended to established instruments to help assess and compare the experience of specific populations.

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