Women's experience of anal incontinence following a history of obstetric anal sphincter injury: a literature review

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Abstract

Background

Anal incontinence (AI) is the involuntary loss of a liquid or solid stool and flatus, resulting in a lifelong profound negative impact on a person's quality of life. One million Australians, half of whom are women, are affected by AI. The aetiology of AI is reported within research literature. Importantly obstetric anal sphincter injury following vaginal delivery is a predominant cause of AI. Factors cited as major risk factors of anal sphincter damage include instrumental delivery, macrosomia and primiparity. The incidence of AI increases with age and with further vaginal delivery. The impact lasts for life.

Aim

This study aims to identify women's experiences of AI following obstetric anal sphincter injury and their impact on quality of life.

Method

An extensive online literature search was undertaken within the medical and nursing databases including the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, PubMed and Medline. Key search terms included AI, faecal incontinence, anal sphincter injuries, obstetric complications, trauma, obstetric, postnatal care, experiences, women's experience and quality of life. The literature search was further refined through fields that included English language only, literature published between 2000 and 2012 and full-text articles.

Findings

The review identified a significant amount of research literature that addressed the prevalence and cause of AI. While quality of life questionaries and symptom severity scores have been utilised to assess the impact of AI on a person's life, there are inherent weaknesses in providing the experience of AI on a person's life. Furthermore, there is limited in-depth research that addresses women's experiences of AI following a history of obstetric anal sphincter injury and the impact on their quality of life.

Conclusion

Research findings contribute to understanding the prevalence, physical, social and emotional impact of AI. While alterations in clinical practice can improve the identification and management of AI, further research that builds on the state of knowledge and seeks a deeper understanding of the issues for women with AI as a result of obstetric anal sphincter injury is required.

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