Numbers high among older women, women who have had several babies and women who have major depression
Its a topic that is discussed so infrequently – for reasons that are easy to understand – that it may seem it isnt 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.
The impact of incontinence on the quality of life of the respondents was "significant," says Fenner, who is one of the founders of the Michigan Bowel Control Program at the University of Michigan Health System. "We found that half of the subjects with FI reported that their bowel symptoms had a large impact on their quality of life," she notes.
Treatments that can help people manage FI can range from changes in diet and exercise, to medications that improve the formation of stools, to surgery that repairs the sphincter muscles. In some cases, an artificial bowel sphincter can be implanted under the skin to mimic the natural function of the anal sphincter. Biofeedback – which involves daily exercises to improve the strength of muscles used to hold back a bowel movement – also is an option for some patients.
The lead author of the study was Jennifer L. Melville, M.D., M.P.H., of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. In addition to Melville and Fenner, other authors were Ming-Yu Fan, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and Katherine Newton, Ph.D., of the Center for Health Studies at the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound of Seattle.
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