Fecal incontinence in hospitalized patients who are acutely ill

Donna Z Bliss, Stuart Johnson, Kay Savik, Connie R. Clabots, Dale N. Gerding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Background: Information about fecal incontinence experienced by patients in acute-care settings is lacking. The relationship of fecal incontinence to several well-known nosocomial or iatrogenic causes of diarrhea has not been determined. Objectives: To determine the cumulative incidence of fecal incontinence in hospitalized patients who are acutely ill, and to ascertain the relationship between fecal incontinence and stool consistency, and between diarrhea and two well-known nosocomial or iatrogenic etiologies of diarrhea: Clostridium difficile and tube feeding. The relationship of fecal incontinence and risk factors for diarrhea associated with C. difficile and tube feeding in hospitalized patients was examined. Methods: Fecal incontinence, stool frequency and consistency, administration of tube feeding and medications, severity of illness, and nutritional data were prospectively recorded in 152 patients on acute or critical care units of a university-affiliated Veterans' Affairs Medical Center. Rectal swabs and stool specimens from patients were obtained weekly for C. difficile culture. C. difficile culture and cytotoxin assay were performed on diarrheal stools. HindIII restriction endonuclease analysis (REA) was used for typing of C. difficile isolates. Results: In this study, 33% (50/152) of the patients had fecal incontinence. The proportion of total surveillance days with fecal incontinence in these patients was 0.50 ± 0.06. A greater percentage of patients with diarrhea had fecal incontinence than patients without diarrhea (23/53 [43%] vs. 27/99 [27%]; p = 0.04). Incontinence was more frequent in patients with loose/liquid stool consistency than in patients with hard/soft stool consistency (48/50 [96%] vs. 71/100 [71%]; p < 0.001). The proportion of surveillance days with fecal incontinence was related to the proportion of surveillance days with diarrhea (r = 0.69; p < 0.001) and the proportion of surveillance days with loose/liquid stools (r= 0.64; p < 0.001). Multivariate risk factors for fecal incontinence were unformed/loose or liquid consistency of stool (RR = 11.1; 95% confidence interval [Cl] = 2.2, 56.7), severity of illness (RR = 5.7; Cl = 2.6, 12.3), and age (RR = 1.1; Cl = 1, 1.1). Conclusions: Fecal incontinence is common in hospitalized patients who are acutely ill, but the condition was not associated with any specific cause of diarrhea. Because loose or liquid stool consistency is a risk factor for fecal incontinence, use of treatments that result in a more formed stool may be beneficial in managing fecal incontinence. However, treatments that slow intestinal transit should be avoided in patients with C. difficile-associated diarrhea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalNursing research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Clostridium difficile
  • Critically ill
  • Diarrhea
  • Epidemiology
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Risk factors
  • Tube feeding


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