Epidemiology of fecal incontinence: the silent affliction

Am J Gastroenterol. 1996 Jan;91(1):33-6.


Objective: Fecal incontinence represents an embarrassing social problem, the magnitude of which remains largely unknown. The present study prospectively examined the prevalence and demographic distributions of fecal incontinence.

Methods: demographic data, in addition to information regarding the reason for visit, bowel habits, and the frequency, type, and severity of fecal incontinence, were collected from individuals at the time of visits to their primary care physician or gastroenterologist.

Results: Eight hundred and eighty-one individuals 18 yr or older were included in the analysis. The overall prevalence of fecal incontinence was 18.4%. When stratified by frequency, 2.7, 4.5, and 7.1% of participants admitted to incontinence daily, weekly, or once per month or less, respectively. Incontinence increased progressively with age and was 1.3 times more common in males than females. Only one-third of individuals with fecal incontinence had ever discussed the problem with a physician.

Conclusions: The prevalence of fecal incontinence appears to be more common than previously appreciated. Moreover, only a minority with a physician. It would seem important to more actively pursue this "silent affliction" particularly in patients who do not readily volunteer this information.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Fecal Incontinence / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Gastroenterology / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Illinois / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Surveys and Questionnaires