Urinary incontinence, or the inability to control one’s urination, is a devastating problem that affects many post-menopausal women. This is a fairly common disorder but, because it unfortunately causes great shame and humiliation for many sufferers, too often it is a silent complaint that is not “talked about,” either socially or during a visit to one’s healthcare provider. One study by Resnick showed that fewer than one in three patients suffering from urinary incontinence consulted a healthcare provider. As a healthcare provider, I find it quite concerning that when a patient complained of symptoms of incontinence, fewer than one in three physicians performed even the most basic of evaluations.
It is important to become educated about urinary incontinence. Women must know that this condition is not necessarily inevitable or shameful, but instead, is a potentially treatable or manageable condition.
As we know, our society is aging. With the increasing number of menopausal women, we will see even more prevalence of urinary incontinence. It is a condition which affects women of all economic, racial and social backgrounds. It also affects men, but women are affected about three times more than they are.
How common is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence affects 15 to 30 percent of women living at home, about 33 percent of hospitalized elderly women and about 50 percent of institutionalized elderly women. While urinary incontinence is most prevalent among the elderly, younger women are not insulated from this disease. 10 to 25 percent of women aged 15 to 64 years have urinary incontinence vs. 1.5 to 5 percent of similarly aged men.
What are some risk factors for urinary incontinence?
Risk factors include having the decreased estrogenic environment associated with menopause, various neurologic diseases, being immobile for many reasons, and a history of several vaginal deliveries.
While I know that urinary incontinence is a serious quality of life issue, can it be associated with any other health issues?
Absolutely. Loss of bladder and/or bowel control can have devastating effects on overall wellness and quality of life. However, other aspects of a post-menopausal woman’s overall physical health can also be affected. For example, irritation of the tissues surrounding the vulva, the site where urination occurs, may occur along with recurrent urinary tract infections. Problems may also arise from fluid and dietary restrictions, which may be instituted to try to reduce chances of “accidents.” For example, with increasing age, we have decreased sensation of thirst, although our needs for hydration continue. If a woman restricts her already possibly reduced fluid consumption, especially during the summer months, she can really put her health in jeopardy. She may become seriously dehydrated and even potentially create long-term damage to her kidneys. Also, possible side effects of some drugs used to treat urinary incontinence may have serious impact on her overall health.
Is all urinary incontinence alike, or are there different types?
There are actually many different types of urinary incontinence that may result from various causes. Make sure you ask your healthcare provider what is causing your specific type of urinary continence so that your therapy can be customized to maximize your chances for symptom relief.
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