• aetiology;
  • anal dysfunction;
  • bowel function;
  • bowel incontinence;
  • incontinence;
  • rural health


Objectives: We explored the prevalence of faecal incontinence (FI) in a referral hospital outpatient population, to explore suspicions that FI is inadequately studied, underestimated and poorly appreciated in the rural North Queensland (NQ) community.

Design: Prospective cross-sectional study using a specifically designed questionnaire.

Setting: The Townsville Hospital, a referral centre serving rural NQ.

Subjects: A total of 435 consecutive patients attending the gynaecology (= 261) and colorectal clinics (= 174) between 31 January and 12 June 2003 were enrolled (participating proportion 96.5%).

Main outcome measures: FI prevalence, severity, impact on patients’ lives, and risk factors.

Results: The prevalence of FI in the study population (median age 53 years) was 20.7%. Amongst affected patients (= 90) the median duration of FI was 2 years with more than half of those affected soiling themselves at least once a month. Many patients with FI (42%) reported feeling hopeless at least some of the time. Rectal prolapse, chronic constipation, psychiatric problems, colon disease, and urinary incontinence were all significantly associated with FI. A CART analysis revealed that many patients (45%) with urinary incontinence and chronic constipation also experienced FI.

Conclusions: This FI prevalence in a clinical setting in NQ is, apart from nursing home studies, the highest reported in the literature. FI negatively impacted on affected persons’ lives. In patients presenting with urinary incontinence and chronic constipation, physicians should specifically enquire whether FI is also present. Definitive community studies to determine the scale of this ‘silent epidemic’ in northern Australia are now required.