Faecal incontinence: prevalence and risk factors

Just because people are too embarrassed to talk about faecal incontinence doesn't mean it isn't common.

Almost 18 million US adults (about one in 12) have faecal incontinence. In Australia, this problem affects up to 20% of men and up to 12.9% of women. The problem though, is that people often keep it secret: only about 20% of people in the UK who have some form of bowel incontinence tell their doctors about their symptoms.

There are several risk factors for FI. Advancing age is the most significant because the anal sphincter muscles that control bowel movements weaken over time. FI can affect people of all ages, but it’s more common in older and middle aged adults, affecting an estimated one in 10 women over 40.

Here are other factors that may increase your risk of faecal incontinence:

• Urinary incontinence
• Frequent constipation
• An injury or illness that damaged the nerves controlling defecation (e.g. diabetes or multiple sclerosis)
• Obesity
• Poor overall health
• Physical disability and dementia. People who are physically disabled may find it difficult to reach a toilet in time, and people with dementia and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease also often suffer from FI.
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