Objective: To determine the prevalence of faecal incontinence in the community and evaluate identifiable risk factors.
Design and setting: Cross-sectional survey using a validated questionnaire. A short version of the questionnaire was sent to 220 subjects and a long version to 770 subjects, randomly selected from western Sydney, Australia.
Main outcome measures: Self-reported faecal incontinence, defined as involuntary loss of anal sphincteric control leading to unwanted release of liquid or solid faeces (not flatus) at an inappropriate time or in an inappropriate place, within the past 12 months. The long questionnaire also sought information on bowel habit and potential risk factors for faecal incontinence.
Results: The response rate was 66%. The prevalence of solid or liquid faecal incontinence was 2% and 9%, respectively. The mean age of subjects with faecal incontinence was 53 years; 55% were women. After adjusting for age and sex, there was a significant association between faecal incontinence and perianal injury (P = 0.03), perianal surgery (P < 0.001), feelings of incomplete defecation (P < 0.0001), loose or watery motions (P < 0.0001) and urgency (P < 0.0001). Seven of 48 subjects with faecal incontinence reported being asked by their physician about faecal incontinence and nine of 33 reported seeking medical advice for their incontinence. Subjects with faecal incontinence perceived their health to be significantly poorer than did other subjects (P = 0.02).
Conclusion: There is a high burden of faecal incontinence in the community, and the prevalence in men may be greater than is usually appreciated. Despite significant associated morbidity, most cases of faecal incontinence were unrecognised by doctors.