Background. Urinary incontinence is common in women. How often incontinence occurs has been only briefly investigated. Studies on the prevalence of fecal incontinence are few. The epidemiology of genital prolapse symptoms is unknown. This epidemiological study describes a general population of women aged 40 and 60 years with regard to the prevalence and frequency of urinary and fecal incontinence and the prevalence of genital prolapse symptoms.
Methods. A questionnaire on medical background, urinary and fecal incontinence, and genital prolapse symptoms was sent to 1000 40-year-old and 1000 60-year-old randomly selected women.
Results. Sixty-seven per cent answered: 53% were continent for urine; 9% of the 40-year-olds and 19% of the 60-year-olds had urinary incontinence weekly or more often. Detrusor instability score was significantly higher in the 60-year-olds. Incontinence of flatus, weekly or more often, was reported by 9% and 19%, loose feces by 5% and 8%, and solid feces by 0.3% and 1.7% according to the 40- and 60-year-olds, respectively. Fifty-three per cent reported no flatus incontinence. Of the prolapse symptoms investigated, 15% of the females reported pelvic heaviness, 4% genital bulge, and 12% use of fingers in the vagina or perineum by defecation.
Conclusions. Incontinence of urine is common in this population. Flatus incontinence is as common, but the concept must be operationalized if used as an endpoint in research. The International Continence Society's (ICS) definition of urinary incontinence is unpractical for use in epidemiological research. We suggest leakage weekly or more often as a criterion for significant incontinence in epidemiological research.