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Overcoming The Stigma Of Incontinence

November is National Bladder Health Awareness Month. Help spread the word about Bladder Health by sharing your story with us!

Prevalence of incontinence.

Incontinence affects an estimated 25 million Americans.  It’s a condition that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, largely due to the stigma surrounding it. But, it’s something that deserves our attention. It’s not life threatening, but it’s a real condition that has a huge effect on quality of life, even if you’re only mildly bothered by it.

Incontinence can have a physical impact on a person in many ways. Needing to locate a bathroom quickly can be difficult for some people, especially if they already have mobility issues. Fear of leaks can also keep a person from getting the proper exercise they need. And, the physical act of laundering clothes after leaks occur can be draining.

Incontinence can affect a person emotionally too – leaks can become so bad that they can make a person fearful of leaving their house all together, forfeiting social invitations, and even causing them to miss work.

Finally, the financial burden of incontinence can be overwhelming for many. The cost of absorbent products, procedures, physical therapy, or other treatment options all adds up, resulting in a financial cost that is often hard to maintain.

Who’s affected by incontinence?

Think only the elderly suffer from bladder leaks? While incontinence is common as we age, older adults are not the only ones affected. Vets, new mothers, and people with neurological conditions are just a few of the different types of incontinence sufferers that deal with leaks on a daily basis.

More women than men typically suffer from incontinence, but men are not immune. Conditions like an enlarged prostate can lead to bladder leaks in many men.

Lack of treatment.

So with such a huge prevalence, and such dire consequences on quality of life, why aren’t more people talking to their doctor? Time from the onset of symptoms to the initiation of treatment takes on average 7 years, and only 1 in 3 patients will ever seek treatment.  And, many people who do seek treatment may not get the care they need – many doctors may not properly address a patient’s concerns about bladder leakage, or refer them to the proper specialist to get help.

The shame of incontinence.

Sadly, for many, it’s shame and embarrassment that keep them from getting the help they need.  A recent NAFC survey showed that nearly 90% of respondents reported feeling depressed, isolated or hopeless due to incontinence. And yet, as many as 27% of them said they had not spoken with a doctor about their incontinence, despite feeling frustrated by their symptoms.  What’s more, patients reported that incontinence impacted their social obligations, their intimacy, and relationships.

Learning to speak up about incontinence and seek help.

At NAFC, one of our biggest goals is to lift the stigma surrounding incontinence so that more people are willing to seek out treatment.  Incontinence can be a lonely condition, and can be a huge burden for someone to bear on their own. Learning to speak up about incontinence to a friend, family member, or doctor can help break down the walls of shame that have for so long been built around this condition.  Incontinence is a treatable condition that should be discussed. No one should have to live a life with bladder leaks.

Steps to take toward treating incontinence.

The first thing to do is to get educated. NAFC has a wealth of information on bladder health conditions. Start by identifying the type of incontinence you have, then learn about the many treatment options available. Make an appointment to talk to your doctor about your condition, and be sure to mention any treatment options that you are interested in or have questions about. You and your doctor can develop a treatment plan that you both feel comfortable with.

Be sure to stick with it – many options may take time to see results, so it’s important to stay diligent, whether that means taking your medication regularly, or performing your pelvic floor exercises every day.

It can also help to find a support system. Confiding in a close friend or family member can help you manage the emotions of incontinence. If you don’t have someone you feel you can talk to, try joining the NAFC message boards.  They’re free to use, anonymous, and filled with a wonderful community that supports each other, offers tips and advice, and lends an ear.

Finally, not every treatment works for everyone. Maybe you’ve experienced side effects on a certain medication. Maybe your condition is too severe for physical therapy alone. Perhaps you’re not ready for surgery but would like to try a more non-invasive option. There are MANY options available so if something isn’t working, speak up, and try something else.  Only then will you truly be taking charge of your health and moving toward a life without leaks.

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