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Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2004 Oct;83(10):989-94.

Anal incontinence after obstetric sphincter tears: incidence in a Norwegian county.

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Department of Digestive Surgery, University Hospital of Tromsö, Norway.



Anal sphincter tears during vaginal delivery are a major cause of anal incontinence. We wanted to assess the incidence in a Norwegian county where primary repairs are performed in four hospitals using similar per- and postoperative protocol for the treatment of such injuries.


A postal questionnaire was distributed to all women who underwent primary repair of obstetric sphincter tears in the years 1999 and 2000 in the county of Möre and Romsdal. Symptoms of incontinence and fecal urgency were recorded. Incontinence was assessed using the Pescatori score system.


Clinically detected sphincter tears occurred in 180 of 5123 vaginal deliveries (3.5%). The questionnaire was returned by 156 women (87%). Six women were excluded. Median follow-up was 25 months (range 4-39). Incontinence was reported by 88 women (59%), restricted to flatus incontinence in 53 cases (35%). Fecal urgency without incontinence was reported by 14 women (9%). Sixty-three women (42%) reported de novo moderate to severe symptoms. There was no difference in outcome whether the sphincter injury was partial or complete. Mean Pescatori score was 3.7 in women who felt disabled compared with 2.9 in women who did not feel disabled by their incontinence (P < 0.001). Of 29 women who felt disabled, only three had sought medical attention. Fifty-eight women (39%) had received no information about the sphincter tear before discharge.


Anal incontinence is common after both partial and complete obstetric sphincter tears. Information before discharge is deficient, and women avoid seeking medical attention when incontinence develops.

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