Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Management of obstetric anal sphincter injury: a systematic review & national practice survey

Ruwan J Fernando1*, Abdul H Sultan2, Simon Radley3, Peter W Jones4 and Richard B Johanson1

Author Affiliations

1 Academic Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology North Staffordshire Hospital Trust/Keele University Stoke on Trent, England

2 Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Mayday University Hospital, Surrey, England

3 Academic Department of Surgery, Birmingham University, Birmingham, England

4 Department of Mathematics, Keele University, Keele, England

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2002, 2:9  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-2-9

Published: 13 May 2002



We aim to establish the evidence base for the recognition and management of obstetric anal sphincter injury (OASI) and to compare this with current practice amongst UK obstetricians and coloproctologists.


A systematic review of the literature and a postal questionnaire survey of consultant obstetricians, trainee obstetricians and consultant coloproctologists was carried out.


We found a wide variation in experience of repairing acute anal sphincter injury. The group with largest experience were consultant obstetricians (46.5% undertaking ≥ 5 repairs/year), whilst only 10% of responding colorectal surgeons had similar levels of experience (p < 0.001). There was extensive misunderstanding in terms of the definition of obstetric anal sphincter injuries. Overall, trainees had a greater knowledge of the correct classification (p < 0.01). Observational studies suggest that a new 'overlap' repair using PDS sutures with antibiotic cover gives better functional results. However, our literature search found only one randomised controlled trial (RCT) on the technique of repair of OASI, which showed no difference in incidence of anal incontinence at three months. Despite this, there was a wide variation in practice, with 337(50%) consultants, 82 (55%) trainees and 80 (89%) coloproctologists already using the 'overlap' method for repair of a torn EAS (p < 0.001). Although over 50% of colorectal surgeons would undertake long-term follow-up of their patients, this was the practice of less than 10% of obstetricians (p < 0.001). Whilst over 70% of coloproctologists would recommend an elective caesarean section in a subsequent pregnancy, only 22% of obstetric consultants and 14% of trainees (p < 0.001).


An agreed classification of OASI, development of national guidelines, formalised training, multidisciplinary management and further definitive research is strongly recommended.