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Women's silent health problem: Study finds fecal incontinence is prevalent in US women

It's a topic that is discussed so infrequently for reasons that are easy to understand that it may seem it isn't much of a problem. But new research shows that fecal incontinence is prevalent among U.S. women, especially those in older age groups, those who have had numerous babies, women whose deliveries were assisted by forceps or vacuum devices, and those who have had a hysterectomy.

Many women in the study who had fecal incontinence also had another medical condition, such as major depression or diabetes, and often experienced urinary incontinence in addition to FI. The findings are reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Increased attention should be paid to this debilitating condition, especially considering the aging of our population and the available treatments for FI," says senior author Dee E. Fenner, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and director of gynecology, at the University of Michigan Medical School. "It is very important to the health of women that clinicians are aware of the prevalence of FI and can treat their patients accordingly."

The study, led by the University of Washington, was a postal survey of 6,000 women ages 30-90 who were enrolled in a large HMO in Washington state (the condition also affects men, but only women were involved in the study). Of the 64 percent who responded, the prevalence of FI was found to be 7.2 percent, with the occurrence increasing notably with age. FI was defined as loss of liquid or solid stool at least monthly.

The study was the first, to the authors' knowledge, to examine major depression as a potential risk factor for FI. They say FI could be a contributing factor to major depression in some cases, and major depression could be a contributing factor to FI in other cases.

FI can occur after damage to the anal sphincter muscles or scarring to the rectum, causing it to be unable to hold stool. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn's dis
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Contact: Katie Gazella
kgazella@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
17-Jan-2006


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