Urinary incontinence is common and highly treatable. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Don’t ask, don’t tell. That’s often the case when it comes to urinary incontinence. People are embarrassed to mention it during a medical checkup. Doctors often don’t ask. One study showed that people live with incontinence for 6.5 years on average before telling a doctor about it.
In most cases, the problem can be managed with proper care and without surgery. Yet, among women with incontinence, more than half suffer in silence and never seek medical help. Symptoms may be mild – leaking a few drops of urine when sneezing or running. For others, though, frequent incontinence gets in the way of enjoying life.
The fear of having an accident may keep someone from going to a party or having sex with a spouse. Seniors with this problem can take a serious fall when rushing to the bathroom. Others develop low self-esteem and depression.
Some people even risk their health to hide the problem. They may stop taking a medicine that may increase their urine flow, such as a “water pill” that treats high blood pressure or heart failure. Incontinence is also a major factor in caregiver decisions to place relatives in nursing homes.
Social stigma gets in the way of treatment
Incontinence is more prevalent than diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other conditions common in older adults. One third of women over age 65 have some degree of it. Yet, the stigma keeps people from getting help for it. Aside from feeling shame, some wrongly believe that losing bladder control is a normal part of aging or that there is nothing to do for it.
The fact is that incontinence is due to an underlying medical condition. It could be a change in muscle tone due to aging, or an infection of the urinary tract. Sometimes, the problem is temporary – due to constipation or a medication, for instance. But incontinence can also be a sign of a serious problem like nerve damage, a tumor or a blockage that could lead to kidney failure.
For all these reasons, you should talk to your doctor if you leak urine. Don’t wait until the problem becomes severe. Incontinence is much easier to treat when symptoms are mild.
Most will find relief
As many as nine in 10 people with incontinence find some degree of relief with treatment. Your primary care doctor may be able to treat you or may refer you to a specialist. The doctor will start with an assessment to find out the nature of the problem.
Managing incontinence can be as simple as taking or switching a medication, changing your diet or exercising your pelvic muscles. Your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes or “bladder re-training” techniques. For others, devices or surgery can help to restore bladder control.
Even if you think you can live with it, covering up and working around the problem is not a good idea. Untreated incontinence raises your risk of falling, becoming depressed or needing assisted living or nursing care. Getting help now can help you maintain your independence and sense of dignity later.