Study: Al Roker's Sad Incontinence Story Checks Out

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Fecal incontinence is common after bariatric surgery. Don't make fun.

PROBLEM: "When you have a bypass, and your bowel's been reconstructed, you think you're pretty safe," begins Al Roker. Then, he officially one-ups every Most Embarrassing White House Moment, forever, by telling Dateline that he accidentally pooped his pants. In so doing, he's unleashed a truly distasteful (but, okay, pretty hilarious) stream of shart jokes on Twitter yesterday, and perhaps become the new poster child for the unpleasant side effects of weight loss surgery.

METHODOLOGY: Back in 2010, researchers reached out to patients who had undergone bariatric surgery at the University of Wisconsin to find out if they'd been having any trouble holding it in. While both urinary and fecal incontinence were known to plague morbidly obese women, it was unclear whether the surgery and accompanying weight loss alleviated these symptoms. 

RESULTS: Pre-Al Roker to look to as a role model, only 48 percent of the surveys were mailed back to the researchers. 72 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported urinary incontinence, though 39 percent of women said they saw an improvement after surgery. 

As for Al's problem, fecal incontinence rates were 48 and 21 percent for women, and 42 and 30 percent for men -- that's for liquid and solid stool, respectively. Fifty-five percent of the women, and 31 percent of the men said this problem worsened after surgery.

CONCLUSION: Both urinary and fecal incontinence are common after bariatric surgery.

IMPLICATION: The study's authors suspect that "such surgery may uncover prior weaknesses in the continence mechanism." As Roker's stomach was stapled ten years ago, it looks like this may be a lasting problem for him. Point made, sympathy conferred to all post-operative patients; but we don't need to hear about it again. 

The full study, "Urinary and fecal incontinence after bariatric surgery," is published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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