The taboo of talking about incontinence

It’s an easy topic to joke about, but the stigma of incontinence – loss of bladder or bowel control – prevents millions of women from seeking treatment.

It’s an easy topic to joke about, but the stigma of incontinence – loss of bladder or bowel control – prevents millions of women from seeking treatment.

Urinary stress incontinence, the most common type, is most often a symptom of a weakened pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a network of muscles, ligaments and tissue that supports the vagina, bladder, rectum and abdominal cavity. Pressure can cause these weakened, stretched or injured structures to move and then function improperly.

“A woman’s risk for stress incontinence is related to her first pregnancy,” said Sarah M. Kane, M.D., urogynecologist at Norton Women’s Specialsts – Urogynecology.

Chances increase with subsequent pregnancies, and there’s also evidence of a genetic predisposition to incontinence issues as well, according to Dr. Kane. Other risk factors for stress incontinence include previous gynecologic surgery, such as hysterectomy and obesity.

One in four women over age 18 experiences episodes of incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. In addition to physical discomfort, women experience emotional pain, isolation and fear of ridicule that often prevent them from seeking treatment. On average, a woman will live with incontinence for more than six years before seeking medical advice due to embarrassment or believing such myths as “incontinence is just a part of aging or being a woman” or “it’s brought on from sexual activity or drinking too much water.”

“A woman should seek medical treatment when leakage impacts her daily life and her ability to manage it,” Dr. Kane said.

Primary care physicians can determine if an urologist or pelvic medicine specialist should evaluate symptoms.

“There is help for incontinence, and sometimes it’s reversible,” Dr. Kane said. “Treatments range from medication and behavior modification to surgical procedures, implantable and external modulation devices, and pharmaceutical injections for the bladder.”

“Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor can help decrease incontinence,” Dr. Kane said. “They can be done anytime, anywhere, but it’s important they are done properly.”

A gynecologist or pelvic floor physical therapist can evaluate if they are being done effectively.

Whether a woman is experiencing a few drops of leakage or large amounts a couple times a week, Dr. Kane advises: “If it’s embarrassing, seek treatment.”

Norton Women’s Care Pelvic Health Program at Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital specializes in caring for women with pelvic conditions. A full range of specialists, therapists and health care professionals are available to ensure you get back to the life you were meant to live — full of joy, activity, intimacy and strength.


Facing Incontinence: Issues Below the Belt

A pelvic health expert will discuss everything you wanted to know about your bladder, but were afraid to ask! Learn about different types of incontinence and pelvic disorders and available treatment options.

February 12, 6 to 7 p.m.
Marshall Women’s & Health Education Center
Call 502-629-1234 for more information & to register or register online


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