Factors that affect consultation and screening for fecal incontinence

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015 Apr;13(4):709-16. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2014.08.015. Epub 2014 Aug 19.


Background & aims: Fecal incontinence (FI) affects 15% of people age 70 years and older, but only 10% to 30% discuss FI with their physicians. We aimed to identify barriers that prevent people from consulting with their physicians, and that prevent physicians from screening for FI.

Methods: We performed structured interviews of 124 individuals with FI (mean age, 56 y; 87.9% women) recruited from 6 medical offices at the University of North Carolina Hospitals from June 2012 through March 2013. The subjects completed the Fecal Incontinence Severity Index and the Fecal Incontinence Quality of Life Scale questionnaires. Interview questions aimed to determine which patients had consulted physicians for FI. Eleven of the 56 physicians with patients included in the study responded to the survey.

Results: Eighty-eight of the 124 participants consulted with their physicians about FI (consulters). These individuals had a higher incidence of depression than the 36 subjects who did not consult with their physicians about FI (nonconsulters; P = .04), but similar Fecal Incontinence Severity Index scores. A smaller proportion of nonconsulters were aware of available treatments than consulters (P < .01). Fifty-six percent of nonconsulters said their FI was not serious enough to consult a physician. There was no difference between consulters and nonconsulters in embarrassment in talking about FI. Among consulters, 88% initiated the conversation about FI with their physician. Seven of the 11 responding physicians screened for FI, but only screened high-risk patients. The 4 physicians who did not screen for FI were unaware of its prevalence, viewed FI as a low priority, or stated that patients were responsible for reporting their own symptoms.

Conclusions: Based on surveys of physicians and patients, many patients have insufficient knowledge about the availability and effectiveness of treatments for FI. Some people with FI do not discuss it with their physician because their symptoms are mild, and most prefer physicians to ask them directly about FI. Educating patients and physicians about the prevalence of FI and management strategies may improve consultation rates.

Keywords: Accidental Bowel Leakage; FIQOL; FISI; Fecal Incontinence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Fecal Incontinence / diagnosis*
  • Fecal Incontinence / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data