Getting your head around urinary incontinence. The psychological problems and how to deal with them.

A study of women who suffer with incontinence problems showed that many wait an average of 5-12 years before asking their doctor for help.  And then it’s often what doctors call a ‘door handle comment’ – you’ve finished your consult for another problem and, as you reach the doctor’s office door, you turn and say “by the way I’ve got this problem with…”.

All because it’s too embarrassing.

But you are not alone and incontinence is not a normal part of ageing.  Nearly 12 million women in the US and 20% of women over 40 in the UK suffer with some form of urinary incontinence.

If you recognise yourself in this article then it’s time to get professional help.  Specialists are trained to understand the physical causes but also the psychological impact of incontinence.

For more about the different types and causes of incontinence, and their treatments, click here.

Incontinence and quality of life.

If you feel that you can’t go out because you need to take a change of clothes or don’t want to go somewhere new because you won’t know where the nearest toilets are, this can impact your relationships and lead directly to social isolation.

Women with incontinence often report:

  • Depression (a 2005 study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that women with incontinence were 3 times more likely to have depression as those who didn’t have incontinence)
  • Low self esteem
  • Sexual and intimacy issues
  • Impaired well being
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Depressed husbands/partners (another 2005 study, in Social Science Medicine showed that if a woman had incontinence problems, her partner was more likely to be depressed)
  • Poor sleep, either due anxiety or waking to go to the bathroom, or both
  • Falls and fractures in the elderly when trying to get to the bathroom in a hurry
  • Skin problems from wearing damp pads.

Dr Halina Zyczynski, specialist in female incontinence at Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, says that of all the types of incontinence, her patients often report urge incontinence as being the most distressing.

Its unpredictable nature, happening without warning, makes it the most difficult to deal with.  Often women find that they’re wet before they have a chance to respond to the urge to get to the bathroom.

Women with stress incontinence often learn how to get round the problem.  They avoid the activities that make them leak and wear a pad in case of leakages when they cough or sneeze.

Treatment for incontinence:

  • Check the meds you’re taking.  Some blood pressure drugs and some antihistamines can make it worse.
  • Strengthen the pelvic floor muscles by exercising them.  Kegel exercises are specially formulated for this – click on the link below for how to do them.
  • Biofeedback has been shown to be effective in helping women with urge incontinence.
  • Meds for urge or stress incontinence are available.
  • Surgery such as a bladder suspension may be necessary.

For more detail on types and remedies for incontinence, click here.

WebMD have this helpful article on the emotional issues of incontinence.

If you’re worried about your symptoms or medical problem but don’t want to seek professional help because you feel embarrassed, silly or that it’s your fault, read this page now:  How to talk to a doctor about an embarrassing problem.

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