Shifting Language to Accidental Bowel Leakage
By Kelly Brezoczky
Founder & Executive Director
Healthy Mature Living Foundation and
Managing Editor

The doctor patient relationship requires good communication skills, from both the doctor and patient perspective – and use of relevant and meaningful language is important to correct diagnosis and treatment. For example, when language is based on patient-friendly terms rather than medical “speak”, it makes it easier for patients to open up a dialogue and may lead to more appropriate treatment recommendations. 

This is even more important when speaking with patients who have a stigmatized condition that can otherwise easily shut down a conversation and discourage treatment.

For people with accidental bowel leakage (ABL), the stigma around “fecal incontinence” is similar to the word “impotence” before the public and health community adopted “ED” as the common acronym for “erectile dysfunction”. Similarly, a shift in the language from FI to ABL could encourage more people to seek care – currently only 30% of people with ABL seek a dialogue with their healthcare provider.

Accidental Bowel Leakage: Patient Friendly Term That Opens Up Dialogue

Accidental bowel leakage been recently introduced as a more patient-friendly term than fecal incontinence in the medical literature. Heidi Brown, MD, Assistant Professor Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health also has described the term, ABL as “removing the blame and de-medicalizing the condition”, making it more accessible for patients who experience leakage.

Supporting this, a recent peer reviewed paper in the International Journal of Clinical Practice co-authored by Dr. Brown, the largest internet study of women with ABL in the community setting, showed that given a choice more than 70% of women over 40 overwhelmingly preferred the term ‘accidental bowel leakage’ to describe their bowel leakage condition. They did not know what fecal incontinence even represented.  “ABL represents a series of words that immediately describes how people feel when they experience fecal incontinence or leakage,” says Dr. Brown.

“Yes, I have that” is the immediate response many people say upon hearing the phrase and it’s key to seeking care and to opening up dialogue”, she explains further.

Bottom line: Healthcare professionals who incorporate accidental bowel leakage into their conversations with those at-risk may find that term opens up a meaningful and productive dialogue. It may also improve the doctor-patient relationship. 

Last Updated 1/12/2015

Kelly Lewis Brezoczky is Founder and Executive Director of the Healthy Mature Living Foundation and Follow her on Twitter @kellybrezoczky for insights on living well after 50.
All comments are moderated and posted at the discretion of the administrator.
Abuse will not be tolerated.
 Name (required)