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Dis Colon Rectum. 1997 Aug;40(8):896-901.

Are special investigations of value in the management of patients with fecal incontinence?

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Central Sydney Continence and Pelvic Floor Clinic, The University of Sydney, Department of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Concord Hospital, New South Wales, Australia.



The aim of this study was to determine whether special investigations significantly alter either the diagnosis or the management plan of patients with fecal incontinence assessed on the basis of a structured history and physical examination alone.


Fifty consecutive patients with fecal incontinence were prospectively studied in a tertiary referral clinic. Each patient was assessed by two clinicians who independently formulated a diagnosis and treatment plan based on the history and physical examination. The resulting 100 patient assessments were then compared with the final diagnosis and treatment plan formulated on completion of endoanal ultrasound, anal manometry, external sphincter electromyography, and defecating proctography.


In the assessment of fecal incontinence, the addition of special investigations altered the diagnosis of the cause of incontinence based on history and examination alone in 19 percent of cases. The management plan was altered in 16 percent of cases. Special investigations were most useful in separating neuropathy from rectal wall disorders and in demonstrating the unexpected presence of internal sphincter defects and neuropathy.


Even experienced colorectal surgeons will misdiagnose up to one-fifth of patients presenting with fecal incontinence if assessment is based on the history and physical examination alone. However surgically correctable causes of incontinence are rarely missed on clinical assessment.

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