Female incontinence can cause embarrassment and severely impact the quality of life for many women – yet it is a topic many are reluctant to talk about. It is thought that as many as one in three women suffer from the condition at some point in their lives. I asked Dr Sarah Jarvis to explain the causes, impact and possible solutions – especially as they relate to women over 50.
What causes incontinence?
There are two main types of incontinence – Stress Incontinence, Urge Incontinence and a thirs which is a mixture of both Urge and Stress.
The most common type of incontinence for women over 50 is stress incontinence – particularly in the case of women who have had children. With hormonal changes the tissues are drier and the muscles and supporting structure shrink.
What can be done to help?
Pelvic floor exercises can make a difference – providing they are done consistently and for long enough. Generally it will take 2 to 3 months to see a difference. Go and see your GP. There are more specialist incontinence clinics opening – ask to be referred. There are specialist nurses and physiotherapists who will help ensure you locate the right muscles when starting your pelvic floor exercises. In cases where incontinence is due to a prolapse, then surgery may be the option.
If your GP is not sympathetic – ask to see another one!
Are there other lifestyle changes that can be made to help incontinence?
Make sure you drink enough fluids. One of the problems is that women worry taht if they drink too much liquid it will increase the need to go to the loo. In fact if you don’t drink enough it can irritate the bladder and make the situation worse. Try cutting down on caffeine, carbonated drinks and alcohol to see if it makes a difference.
What impact does incontinence have on women’s lives?
In talking to women suffering from incontinence most feel demoralised and depressed. It affects their self confidence and their relationships – many cannot discuss with their partners.
Those who have the need to go during the night suffer from lack of sleep.
Also many stop exercising as this can increase the need to go, but also leads to weight gain and a worsening of symptoms, causing more stress and so it can be a vicious cycle.
Many get worried about leaving the house, stop using public transport and always have to know where the nearest loo is. They also worry about what to wear in case of accidents.
Also, many women use sanitary pads to act as a barrier – but these are not the right products – they are not what they were designed to do. Also they express embarrassment at being seen buying incontinence pads at the supermarket. Buying the right products can make a tremendous difference to confidence in managing the condition.
There are specialist , thinner products on the market which are designed with better absorbency and odour control for incontinence- which can help tremendously in helping women feel more confident about going about their lives. I have recently been talking to women who took part in a trial using a new product by Always – called Discreet – they say it has made a tremendous difference in how they manage incontinence and helps them feel more secure.
Do not underestimate the impact incontinence has on your life – see your GP and ask for help! As stated previously it is more common than most women think – 12 million women in the UK suffer from the condition – you do not have to suffer alone or in silence.