Worldwide, urinary incontinence affects an estimated 200 million individuals. As many as 9 to 13 million women experience symptoms which negatively impact their overall quality of life.
A study in 2007 aimed to illuminate the meaning of women’s experiences of living with urinary incontinence. Fourteen women with urinary incontinence who had sought professional help were interviewed. All of the women agreed that living with incontinence made them feel “powerless”. Worryingly, the embarrassment and “powerless” effect of incontinence even means that people often wait at least 6.5 years from the first time they experience symptoms before they even seek a diagnosis and solution for their bladder control issues.
Incontinence is known to be a condition that causes embarrassment, however it is often underestimated just how much of an impact the condition can have on daily life. Although the effects of incontinence can differ greatly depending on the severity of the condition, there are feelings that are mutual in all incontinent individuals. 150 people recently completed a self-administered questionnaire on perception and knowledge of urinary incontinence. To be incontinent was considered to be severely embarrassing and more so than depression or cancer as measured on the 1-10 scale. Research across the years has revealed some unexpected parts of daily life that are affected by incontinence. The impact that incontinence has on daily life can be assessed through considering the impact on an individual’s relationships, work life and physical health.
People are social animals, and the tenor of our social life is perhaps one of the most important influences on our mental health. Although we may not realise it, without positive relationships, both our minds and bodies can fall apart. When you live in a state of fear of others discovering your incontinence however, this can change your mental health drastically. It is estimated that between 25-50% of women with urinary incontinence experience sexual dysfunction. Reduced intimacy, affection and physical proximity can all be affected by being incontinent. Researcher Nilsson et al conducted a study in which 38% of women and 32% of men reported that their partner’s incontinence impacted negatively on their relationship. 20% of women and 17% of men reported reduced intimacy, affection and physical proximity. One participant in the study claimed “I become nervous and cannot actually relax. I am anxious about smelling bad and urine leakage when we are closely intimate”. Several women in the study even said they felt incontinence had been a factor in their marriage breakdown and divorce, while others feared their incontinence may put their marriage in jeopardy. Suffering from incontinence may therefore have an even higher cost in psychosocial terms than most of us can imagine.
Another problem that incontinent individuals come across is the maintenance of good health. Incontinence can lead to people avoiding exercise and keeping fit through staying active. As each 5 unit increase in body mass index associates with a 20% to 70% increase in the urinary incontinence risk, people can find themselves in a viscous circle. In addition to giving up time to constantly buy protective products, incontinent people can become forced to give up activities such as swimming, running and long walks. More than a quarter of people who report being incontinent experience leakage during exercise and a similar proportion regarded the leakage to be a barrier to exercise. This is often due to a combination of leaking urine during exercise and having to find a toilet urgently. Individuals who are both obese and incontinent can often find themselves unable to maintain or begin an exercise routine.
Difficulty maintaining healthy can also be caused through the tendency to miss out on sleep. Nocturia, a common symptom of incontinence, means people can be disrupted throughout the night by leaks or the need to urinate. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. On going sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. A lack of sleep also has a negative impact on how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others. It can, therefore, affect important skills needed in the workplace. This means even a person’s daily life in their job can be affected by incontinence. Individuals with incontinence and a lack of sleep are therefore more likely to suffer greater psychological morbidity, particularly depression. Up to 23% of women take time off work because of their incontinence. Loss of concentration and ability to perform physical tasks can even take a toll on how someone performs at work. Needing to go to the toilet can additionally cause many interruptions of work for toilet breaks and absences from work. Recent research has found that urinary incontinence can cause occupational restriction as a result of worries regarding feeling wet and smelling of urine. Each of these factors can have a negative impact on people’s self-confidence at work.
In addition to everyday changes, it is harder to enjoy treats such as holidays and days out if you are incontinent. It can be difficult to find the confidence to visit new places due to being unsure as to where toilets are and if there might be any leakage. Often, packing protective materials and thinking of ways to dispose of used pads can be a huge discouragement. To investigate the extent to which even leaving the house is a worry, an interview was recently conducted with seven people. The study focused on individuals with mild to moderate Dementia living at home with incontinence or problems with using the toilet. One elderly man described his struggles with worrying where the nearest toilet e urgency in needing to urinate once the sensation was recognised: “It’s really hard from the point of view of making sure I’m near a loo because when I want to go, I want to go quickly and that’s really the problem on incontinence”.
Although incontinence is an unpleasant journey, many of these impacts on daily life can be prevented through the understanding of others and an ambition to find a solution. Thinking of incontinence as a taboo is an ignorant act in refusing to learn about the condition. If you or someone close to you is suffering from incontinence, you can make life easier by reading as much about the condition as possible. Remember that incontinence is not a condition you choose to have and can affect anyone. There is a large range of products in the market that can help you manage the condition with ease, and trained Doctors and professionals who can advise you on simple life changes. Talk, read and search for ideal products to make your journey less stressful.
Incontinence.co.uk provides advice and guidance to help you battle these everyday struggles.