A population-based study on bowel habits in a Swedish community: prevalence of faecal incontinence and constipation

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2002 Aug;37(8):911-6. doi: 10.1080/003655202760230865.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Constipation / drug therapy
  • Constipation / epidemiology*
  • Defecation
  • Fecal Incontinence / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology


  • Cathartics