Anterior structural damage to the anal sphincter occurs in up to a third of women at first vaginal delivery, and of these a third have new bowel symptoms. The standard treatment for such structural damage is anterior overlapping anal-sphincter repair. We aimed to assess the long-term results of this operation. We assessed the long-term results in 55 consecutive patients who had had repair a minimum of 5 years (median 77 months [range 60-96]) previously. Questionnaire and telephone interview assessed current bowel function and continence, restriction in activities related to bowel control, and overall satisfaction with the results of surgery. 42 of these patients had been continent of solid and liquid stool at a median of 15 months after the repair. We were able to contact 47 (86%) of the 55 patients. One of these patients had required a proctectomy and end ileostomy for Crohn's disease. Of the remaining 46 patients, 27 reported improved bowel control without the need for further surgery, and 23 rated their symptom improvement as 50% or greater. Seven patients had undergone further surgery for incontinence and one patient had not had a covering stoma closed. Thus, the long-term functional outcome of the sphincter repair alone could be assessed in 38 patients. Of these patients, none was fully continent to both stool and flatus; only four were totally continent to solid and liquid stool; six had no faecal urgency; and eight had no passive soiling. Of the 38 patients, 20 still wore a pad for incontinence and 25 reported lifestyle restriction. 14 reported the onset of a new evacuation disorder after sphincter repair. 23 of the 46 patients contacted had a successful long-term outcome (defined as no further surgery and urge faecal incontinence monthly or less). The results of overlapping sphincter repair for obstetric anal-sphincter damage seem to deteriorate with time. Preoperative counselling should emphasise that although most patients will improve after the procedure, continence is rarely perfect, many have residual symptoms, and some may develop new evacuation disorders.