Clinical Product Manager, Attends and Chair of Irealnd Branch, Association for Continence Advice (ACA)
Incontinence is as widespread as it is misunderstood. Embarrassment makes it difficult for people to talk about, but the right advice and support can make a big difference.
With incontinence affecting as many people in the UK as hay fever, you would expect to hear more about it. Although most people will share their experiences of hay fever, very few will talk about living with incontinence – even to their doctor. The figures of those affected – is estimated one in 10 men and one in three women – are at best a guesstimate. Incontinence can affect anyone and everyone from teenage girls to women of childbearing age, men with prostrate trouble and is common in the elderly population.
Getting help is vital but according to Clinical Product Manager Jane Smith of Attends UK, stigma and lack of education is a huge barrier for many people. “Embarrassment is a big problem. Men are not used to talking about their bodies and are reluctant to visit the doctor. Women often think it is just part of getting older or the result of childbirth and young girls are particularly embarrassed as they see it as an older person’s disease.”
Signs and symptoms
Because the subject is not talked about as much as it needs to be, people may not be aware of the signs and symptoms. Leaking urine in large or even small quantities when you laugh, cough or sneeze is an indication that something is not right. Frequent visits to the toilet, leakage at night, feeling as if your bladder never really empties may be a sign that you may be suffering from incontinence. Rather than getting help, many people will avoid drinking liquids or will stay at home to avoid embarrassing situations.
Reassuringly, most cases can be cured and if they can’t be, they can be successfully managed with a variety of techniques. Pharmacists and GPs can point the way to specialist continence nurse advisors and reliable information. The earlier that people seek help for incontinence, the better the chance is to cure it, or to manage it with the correct treatment and products.
The earlier that people seek help for incontinence, the better the chance is to cure it, or to manage it with the correct treatment and products.
In addition to consulting a specialist advisor, people can do a lot to help themselves, Smith says. “Simple lifestyle changes, like cutting down on caffeine which irritates the bladder, drinking more water (up to eight glasses a day, eating healthily to avoid constipation as well as maintaining a balanced weight and pelvic floor exercise are effective if taught correctly all help to maintain good bladder function.