While it is often treatable, incontinence will affect about 1 in 4 of us at some point as a result of a bladder or bowel problem, an operation, conditions such as multiple sclerosis or sometimes for no very clear reason. If incontinence cannot be cured it needs to be managed with pads and devices to enable people to lead a normal life without fear of leakage.

Professor Mandy Fader, Dean of Health Sciences and Professor of Continence Technology at the University of Southampton, says that there is a real need to talk about incontinence and boost creativity among medical manufacturers.

 

Improving dignity

 

“Men are particularly distressed by incontinence,” she says. “Women have periods, child birth, they’re more used to managing and discussing leakage. Men have no experience; they take a stoical attitude and tend to distance themselves from what they perceive as a great indignity. They’ll tell doctors their condition isn’t too bad, but their wives will immediately say, ‘It’s terrible’.

"More open conversation around incontinence is exactly what’s needed."

“I’d encourage men to be more forthcoming and to have honest discussions with their doctors and nurses. If men realised it’s quite a common condition, and made more of a fuss, there would be even more improvements made within the industry.  For example “pads are now made with a super-absorbent gel which reduces odour and stops leakage – the two main fears of discovery,” explains Fader. “Design has improved too: there are now pads specifically for men which cup the penis and scrotum.” Men have other options too such as a penile sheath attached to a leg-bag which can be better for journeys: “For a man it might be unacceptable to have to open their suitcase full of pads at an airport, and a sheath can be a more manly option that can be easier to change.”

 

Catheters and coatings

 

There is positive news for both short- and long-term catheter users. Fader explains that there is now a drive in hospitals to use catheters only when most effective.  “As a patient, you may be lying there after an operation feeling you don’t want to get up and go to the loo, but the longer you have the catheter in, the higher your risk of infection.”

There is also lot of research going on into how to avoid bacterial build-up (biofilm) in catheters for long-term users, such as cancer survivors. Biofilm can cause distressing blockages and infections, but “we’re hoping for a breakthrough in the materials used in the coatings,” says Fader.

 

Choosing a ‘mix’ of pads and devices

 

It’s important to be aware that all products and devices have strengths and weaknesses and may work better for different people and different activities or times of the day, and that there are plenty of designs which aren’t available in pharmacies but can be found online.

"If more men made a fuss, there would be even more improvements within the industry."

 “Incontinence can be severely disruptive to people’s lives, and that’s where products come in,” says Fader, who suggests visiting www.continenceproductadvisor.org to research options. “We need to see choices, a variety of discreet, effective, reliable options that are comfortable and easy to use, and washable items that avoid waste.”

 “We need to make sure that incontinence is treated whenever possible, but for people who have permanent incontinence it needs to be much more socially acceptable,” she insists. “Loads of people have long-term conditions – it’d be good if we got to the point where somewhere like IKEA sells these products and it’s an acceptable part of living.”