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Why Aren’t Women Getting The Incontinence Care They Need?

Incontinence is a common problem in women. However, women often feel brushed off or dismissed when it comes to sharing their concerns about bladder leaks. This article examines why women aren’t getting the care they need when it comes to the treatment of incontinence.

“My doctor told me my incontinence was normal”. “I was told that bladder leaks are just a part of aging”. “He (my doctor) told me It’s just a result of having kids”.

These are common complaints we hear from women when we ask them about their experience in seeking treatment for incontinence. In fact, in a 2020 NAFC survey among patients who suffer from urinary incontinence, more men (84%) than women (76%) said they felt their concerns about bladder leaks were taken seriously by their doctor. Men also seemed to receive more time with their doctor discussing their concerns about bladder leaks. And, men were more likely to be referred to a specialist for treatment than women (74% vs. 60%). 

There has been much discussion about the healthcare gap in recent years for women and underserved communities. While incontinence is a very common problem for women, it is by no means “normal”. In fact, there are many treatment options available. So why are women’s concerns about incontinence, and the treatment of this condition often ignored or brushed off? This article will look at some of the healthcare disparities for women when it comes to incontinence and possible ways to address them.

What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine due to a loss of bladder control. There are many types of incontinence and many potential causes. In women, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, obesity, and certain medical conditions may lead to incontinence. However many treatments exist to manage the condition and when properly treated, many people find relief from bladder leaks. Yet, many women with incontinence go untreated for years, or even forever, for a variety of reasons. 

Why Incontinence Goes Untreated In Women

With so many treatments available to women, why is incontinence such an under-treated condition? There are many reasons incontinence goes untreated in women. Let’s look at a few:

Women are too embarrassed to bring it up.

Despite the fact that bladder leaks are common among women, many fail to bring up their concerns with their doctor. Incontinence can be an embarrassing condition, and many women feel uncomfortable raising the issue, even to their healthcare provider. In fact, in a recent NAFC survey, nearly half of the women who responded stated that they suffered from incontinence for more than 2 years before finally talking with a doctor about their condition. For many women, this lack of action is due to feeling embarrassed or ashamed of their condition. Or, they feel that their symptoms are not serious enough to warrant medical attention. 

Their doctor dismisses their concerns.

Unfortunately, when women do bring up their concerns about incontinence, they can sometimes be met with dismissive attitudes from their doctor. This may present in many different ways. A lack of appreciation for the struggles they are going through, minimal time spent discussing the condition, or little education offered on the options available to treat it. In turn, this can make women feel unheard, dismissed, and frustrated at the lack of care or options presented to them. 

Why might a doctor dismiss a woman’s concerns about incontinence? A big reason could be a lack of education for primary care physicians about the issue. In a NAFC survey, many women stated that they first raised their incontinence concerns with their primary care provider (PCP), and that they (women) were the ones to raise the issue. Only about half of respondents said their PCP talked to them about treatment options available. And when they did, absorbent products and medications were the most often discussed (despite the myriad of treatment options available).

Unfortunately, many general healthcare providers receive minimal training on incontinence and the effect it can have on a woman’s quality of life. This can lead to a lack of understanding about the condition and the potential causes of incontinence, as well as the treatment options available, resulting in diminished care for women suffering from bladder leaks.

Lack of resources.

Another reason women may see a disparity in care is a lack of resources. This might include a lack of insurance coverage for treatment options. Or it may include limited access to specialized healthcare providers or treatment options. These situational circumstances may make women feel as though nothing can be done to treat their bladder leaks. They begin to feel that they are left to cope with incontinence on their own.

Women face more challenges in general when it comes to healthcare.

Finally, many women face greater obstacles to healthcare in general, based on their racial or ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or geographic location. Women in underserved populations may find it harder to find the care and treatment they need. This can leave them feeling dismissed, and alone in their healthcare struggles.

How to address this healthcare gap.

While significant steps have been made in recent years to address the healthcare gap for women, more can be done. 

More Education And Training About Incontinence For Doctors

Greater education about incontinence and its effect on the quality of life for women should be part of every PCP’s training. And, incontinence should be recognized as a serious health issue that should be addressed. Doctors should be educated about the causes of incontinence and how it can limit a woman’s life both physically and emotionally. And, they should receive more training about the options that are available to treat the condition.

Healthcare providers should also be better trained on how to approach the topic with their patients. “A study of primary care physicians found that the majority of these physicians asked only 25% or fewer of their patients about incontinence. But significantly, while up to 70% of incontinence patients did not voluntarily report the problem, more than 75% did admit to the condition when asked about it by their physician.”

Increase In Funding For Women’s Health Education

The need for an increase in funding and resources for women, particularly minorities, should also be addressed. Women need to be educated about incontinence, its causes, and the ways it can be treated.

Greater education about bladder leaks may also lead to decreased stigma and taboos that have long surrounded the condition. Showing women that incontinence is not a normal part of aging and that there are ways to treat it that will improve their quality of life can empower women to seek and demand care and treatment sooner. Additionally, healthcare providers need to be trained to allow a safe and supportive environment for those women who are seeking help for incontinence. 

At NAFC, our mission is to provide education and support to those suffering from incontinence and their loved ones. Our work in raising awareness about the issue has helped to unmask some of the burdens of incontinence.

But there are still many challenges that women with incontinence face every day. This includes finding the care and treatment they need to overcome the symptoms. In educating people about the condition, and the treatment options available to them, we hope to reduce the stigma around incontinence and empower women to seek and demand the care that they need to live confidently without the burden of bladder leaks.  

To learn more about how to talk to your doctor about bladder leaks, and to download some free tools to help, visit this page.

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