Fecal incontinence in people with self-reported irritable bowel syndrome: Prevalence and quality of life

Hunt MG1, Wong C2, Aajmain S2, Dawodu I2. J Psychosom Res. 2018 Oct;113:45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.07.015. Epub 2018 Jul 27.

Author information

1 University of Pennsylvania, United States. Electronic address: mhunt@psych.upenn.edu.

2 University of Pennsylvania, United States.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. IBS is a risk factor for fecal incontinence (FI), the unintentional passage of solid or liquid stool. FI can substantially interfere with health related quality of life (HRQL), leading to heightened anxiety and avoidance behavior. Nevertheless, relatively little research has been conducted on the prevalence of FI in IBS patients. This study evaluated the prevalence of FI in people with self-reported IBS and the relationship between FI and HRQL. 703 people who reported a diagnosis of IBS completed questionnaires on IBS symptom severity, FI symptom severity, HRQL, fear of food, anxiety about visceral sensations, and GI specific catastrophizing. Overall, 60% of people with IBS reported experiencing at least one lifetime episode of FI. In a subsample of 360 people who met strict Rome IV criteria and reported no other GI related co-morbidities, 62% reported experiencing at least one lifetime episode. While people who experienced FI more frequently had worse HRQL statistically, the differences in HRQL between people who had experienced FI and those who had not were not clinically significant. Rather than frequency of FI or physical symptom severity, quality of life was mostly determined by psychological variables, such as fear of food, anxiety, and catastrophizing. This study suggests that FI is quite prevalent in IBS patients, but that the best way to improve HRQL for IBS patients with FI may be to focus on reducing anxiety, catastrophizing and avoidance.

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