Background: The self-reported bowel habits and the prevalence of faecal incontinence and constipation in men and women between the ages of 31 and 76 are assessed.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to a random sample (n = 2000) of the total population of persons between the ages of 31 and 76 living in the County of Ostergötland, Sweden.
Results: The response rate was 80.5%. Overall, 67.8% reported one bowel movement per day and 4.4% had more than 21 or less than 3 bowel movements per week. This means that 95.6% had between 3 bowel movements a day to 3 bowel movements a week. Among women, 4.3%, and among men. 1.7%, reported less than 3 bowel movements per week. Women and men used the same terms to describe the definition of constipation. Women had a significantly higher self-reported prevalence of constipation than men (P < 0.0001). About 20% of all women considered themselves constipated. The use of laxatives increased with age and 22% and 10% of elderly women and men, respectively, used laxatives including bulking agents for at least every fourth toilet procedure. About 10% reported leakage of faeces more often than once a month in the case of loose stools. With solid faeces, the rate of leakage was 1.4% and 0.4% for women and men, respectively. Soiling of underclothes more than once a month occurred in 21% of men and in 14.5% of women (P = 0.006) and involuntary daily leakage of gas in 5.9% of men and 4.9% of women (n.s.).
Conclusions: Constipation and faecal incontinence are common problems in a general Swedish population.