Women's health 18 years after rupture of the anal sphincter during childbirth: I. Fecal incontinence

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Abstract

Objective

We studied the long-term outcome after an anal sphincter tear.

Study design

From a cohort of 4569 women who gave birth in 1982 to 1983, we identified 445 (9.7%) who sustained a sphincter tear and 445 controls. Eighteen years after the delivery, we mailed them a questionnaire and graded fecal incontinence with the Wexner score, a summary of incontinence to flatus, liquid, or solid stools; need to wear a pad; and lifestyle alterations. We predefined severe incontinence as a score above 4 of 20.

Results

Five hundred forty of 890 women (61%) returned the questionnaire. Severe fecal incontinence was reported by 34 of 259 women (13.1%) after a sphincter tear and 22 of 281 controls (7.8%) (risk ratio 1.7, 95% confidence interval 1.0 to 2.8). Only 6.4% of the reports of fecal incontinence were attributable to a sphincter tear.

Conclusion

Fecal incontinence is frequently reported, even by women who have not sustained an anal sphincter tear. Only a small fraction of fecal incontinence can be attributed to sphincter tears.

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