NIH state-of-the-science conference statement on prevention of fecal and urinary incontinence in adults

NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 2007 Dec 12-14;24(1):1-37.


Objective: To provide health care providers, patients, and the general public with a responsible assessment of currently available data on prevention of fecal and urinary incontinence in adults.

Participants: A non-DHHS, nonadvocate 15-member panel representing the fields of geriatrics, nursing, gastroenterology, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, urology, general surgery, oncology, neurosurgery, epidemiology, biostatistics, psychiatry, rehabilitation medicine, environmental health sciences, and healthcare financing. In addition, 21 experts from pertinent fields presented data to the panel and conference audience.

Evidence: Presentations by experts and a systematic review of the literature prepared by the Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center, through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Scientific evidence was given precedence over anecdotal experience.

Conference process: The panel drafted its statement based on scientific evidence presented in open forum and on published scientific literature. The draft statement was presented on the final day of the conference and circulated to the audience for comment. The panel released a revised statement later that day at This statement is an independent report of the panel and is not a policy statement of the NIH or the Federal Government.

Conclusions: (1) Fecal incontinence and urinary incontinence will affect more than one fourth of all U.S. adults during their lives. The natural history of fecal incontinence is unknown, and the natural history of urinary incontinence over several years is not well described. (2) Fecal incontinence and urinary incontinence often have serious effects on the lives of the many individuals who suffer physical discomfort, embarrassment, stigma, and social isolation, and on family members, caregivers, and society. Financial costs are substantial and may be underestimated because of underreporting. (3) Routine episiotomy is the most easily preventable risk factor for fecal incontinence. Risk factors for both fecal and urinary incontinence include female sex, older age, and neurologic disease (including stroke). Increased body mass, decreased physical activity, depression, and diabetes may also increase risk. (4) Pelvic floor muscle training and biofeedback are effective in preventing and reversing fecal and urinary incontinence in women for the first year after giving birth, and these approaches may also prevent or reduce urinary incontinence in older women and in men undergoing prostate surgery. Fecal and urinary incontinence may be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise. (5) Efforts to raise public awareness of incontinence and the benefits of prevention and management should aim to eliminate stigma, promote disclosure and care-seeking, and reduce suffering. Organized approaches to improving clinical detection of fecal and urinary incontinence are needed and require rigorous evaluation. (6) To reduce the suffering and burden of fecal and urinary incontinence, research is needed to establish underlying mechanisms, describe a classification system, determine natural history, classify persons according to their future risk for fecal or urinary incontinence, design interventions targeted to specific population groups, determine the effects of these interventions, and guide public policy.

Publication types

  • Consensus Development Conference, NIH
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cost of Illness
  • Fecal Incontinence / economics
  • Fecal Incontinence / prevention & control*
  • Fecal Incontinence / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Urinary Incontinence / economics
  • Urinary Incontinence / prevention & control*
  • Urinary Incontinence / psychology