Background: The impact of systemic sclerosis on bowel function is still unknown. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the frequency and severity of colorectal problems among patients with systemic sclerosis and to determine whether these problems are associated with age, gender, type of systemic sclerosis, or time since diagnosis.
Methods: A detailed questionnaire describing diarrhoea, constipation, obstructed defecation, faecal incontinence, bowel habits, social activities, and quality of life was sent to 96 consecutive patients with systemic sclerosis.
Results: Among 83 respondents (86%) 16% did not have a normal desire to defecate, 18% regularly needed digital stimulation or evacuation of the rectum, and 38% had faecal incontinence. Most patients (79%) had episodes of diarrhoea, and 38% had this once or more each month. Overall, 20% reported that colorectal dysfunction caused some or a major restriction of social activities or the quality of life.
Conclusions: Colorectal dysfunction is very common among patients with systemic sclerosis, often restricting social activities and the quality of life. Therefore, further studies of colorectal pathophysiology in patients with systemic sclerosis are needed.