How common is fecal incontinence?

According to a recent study, nearly one in five women over the age of 40 reported an episode of accidental bowel leakage (ABL), also known as fecal incontinence; that’s 15 million American women. Other published studies report that ABL affects men at similar levels as women. All together, research indicates that tens of millions of women and men experience ABL. Indeed, one in 10 adults in the U.S. experience ABL symptoms at least monthly.

Fecal incontinence is quite common. Nearly 18 million Americans suffer from some form of fecal incontinence. Fecal incontinence is most often seen in women and the elderly, but it can happen to anyone, even children.

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Because people are reluctant to seek help, fecal incontinence (unintended passage of stool) is sometimes perceived as rare. This perception is wrong.

Until recently, experts could only guess at how often this condition affected men and women. But for the first time, national statistics have been collected, at least for women, by the National Center for Health Statistics. A survey of 1,961 women, published in 2008, found that at least 9% of women experience the unintended leakage of stool at least once a month. Although fecal incontinence is more common in older people, it may occur at any age. Fecal incontinence is also associated with urinary incontinence. Even though they may not disclose it readily, many people with urinary incontinence have fecal incontinence as well.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.