Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It's a common problem that is thought to affect millions of people.
Bladder weakness or urinary incontinence is thought to affect between three and six million people in the UK. The condition is thought to affect women more than it does men (around twice as many women than men are affected by urinary incontinence), and it becomes more prevalent as people get older.
Urinary incontinence varies from leaking relatively small quantities of urine, to loss of the bladder's entire contents. Urinary incontinence can have a serious impact on a person’s social life and self esteem, leading to depression and even isolation.
(Fecal incontinence is the inability to control your bowel movements. It's sometimes also called bowel or anal incontinence, and it can range from occasional leakage of a small quantity of stool while passing gas, to a complete loss of bowel control.)
Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are different types and causes of urinary incontinence.
1) The most common is known as Stress Urinary Incontinence, which is common during childbirth or noticeable when small amounts of urine leaks when you laugh, cough, sneeze etc. If a person is overweight, menopausal or has an enlarged prostate this can also increase the risk of weakened pelvic floor muscles, which can cause Stress Incontinence.
Other causes of Stress Incontinence can include damage to the nerves, cystic fibrosis, type 2 diabetes, certain drugs (such as diuretics), constipation or even infection.
2) Another type of bladder weakness is Urge Incontinence - strong urges to urinate are followed by uncontrollable tightening of the bladder, which then causes it to leak. Urge Incontinence is sometimes referred to as an Overactive Bladder.
3) Mixed Incontinence describes when people suffer a mixture of both urge and stress incontinence.
4) Temporary Incontinence occurs as a result of something such as an illness or infection, that lasts only for a short period of time.
5) It hasn't been included on the above diagram - but Overflow Incontinence is when the bladder leaks small quantities of urine, almost constantly. This is usually due to an obstruction such as enlarged prostate. With Overflow Incontinence, you may or may not be able to sense that your bladder is full.
The stigma around Urinary Incontinence
A few stats regarding urinary incontinence -
In the UK, 24% of older people are affected by urinary incontinence.
Half the female population will experience urinary incontinence at some time in their lives. A study in 2002 found that 32% of women in the UK had experienced symptoms of urinary incontinence in the previous 30 days.
Over 10% of men over 65 have urinary incontinence to some degree.
So - while it's a subject that we typically don't feel comfortable talking about, there is evidence to show that urinary incontinence is a common problem that affects many of us. So why the stigma?
Discussing something like urinary incontinence will likely induce embarrassment, but it's far from rare. You should see your GP if you have any type of urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem and you shouldn't feel embarrassed talking to them about your symptoms.
Your local pharmacy provides a confidential and private environment, where people can ask for advice on this matter. Simply call into your local Community Pharmacy, and ask a member of staff if you could speak in confidence with the pharmacist. You'll not need to make an appointment in advance for this. If the pharmacy has a private Patient Consultation area you'll be able to speak with the pharmacist there; and if your local pharmacy isn't able to provide such an area the pharmacist will still be able to speak to you in a quiet, private corner in which you won't be overheard.
Your pharmacist has seen and heard it all before, and they're there to provide advice and information on your health.
The pharmacist and their staff can give advice on urinary incontinence, and on the products that are available to let you get on with your day and prevent urinary incontinence preventing you from doing this. There are specially designed pads and pants which have been created to suit people with all types of bladder weakness.
Managing Urinary Incontinence
As said, there are ranges of specially designed pants and pads which have been created to specifically help manage urinary incontinence. It's thought that as many as 65% of women use sanitary products to manage bladder weakness, but it's important to note that these aren't designed to absorb urine. Specific products for urinary incontinence are available within the pharmacy - ranging from small pads and liners, to pants.
The two leading ranges that you'll find in your local Gordons Chemists are TENA and Always Discreet. There's a wide selection of products that are available, depending on the correct size and level of absorbency that is needed for each customer.
These help people stay dry and secure, helping to manage this surprisingly common problem, day and night. They ensure that urine is locked away from the skin to provide maximum dryness, and reduce the incidence of skin irritation.
Both men and women are catered for with these products and they now provide the highest levels of security, discretion and comfort for all degrees of incontinence. The pads and pants are also designed with odour control.
It's therefore important that - if you are experiencing urinary incontinence - that you use a suitable product to manage this. The range of products from TENA and Always Discreet are designed to keep you dry (and thus help prevent infection) and control odour.
Lifestyle Changes that can help with Urinary Incontinence
Some lifestyle changes can also help - including drinking the correct fluids, for instance water in preference to caffeine and fizzy/alcoholic drinks.
Avoiding spicy food and quitting smoking (a smoker's cough can put additional strain on your pelvic floor) can also help. Pelvic floor exercises will also help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder.
Please note that BEFORE you would begin any exercise programme, it's important that you speak to your GP or pharmacist. This is particularly important if you have a weakness in your pelvic floor muscles that has been caused by illness, injury, pregnancy, childbirth and so on.
Where prescription medicines have been prescribed, your pharmacist will be able to discuss this with you - explaining what the medication does, provide you with reassurance about the suitability of the medicine, and give correct guidance on their use (for example the time of day you should take it, with or without food, with any other medication you may be taking, and so on).
The stigma around urinary incontinence
There shouldn't be a stigma around urinary incontinence!
It affects lots of us - maybe as many as 1 in 10 UK adults! Of course it's an embarrassing condition - but with the use of the specialised products (such as pads and pants from Tena and Always Discreet) there is NO reason why you can't enjoy your day-to-day lifestyle and not allow urinary incontinence to get in the way.
Speak to your GP or pharmacists. Both these healthcare professionals can advise you on your condition, and recommend things you can do to help manage it. For instance, your diet and lifestyle can help. There are exercises that you can do to help manage urinary incontinence.
It affects us all. Male and female, young and old alike. Treatments can range from lifestyle changes and exercise, to medication and surgical intervention. The important step is to speak to your healthcare professional.