Urinary incontinence is a subject former Changing Rooms TV presenter Carol Smillie openly speaks about, in fact the star has admitted to wetting herself in the past. She’s now on a mission to end the taboo around the bladder control issue.
One in three women, according to former Changing Rooms TV presenter Carol Smillie, have experienced some form of incontinence in their lifetime. In her own experience, both jumping on trampolines and blowing her nose too hard has seen the 54-year-old experience unwanted urinary incontinence.
Incontinence is an extremely common but lack of conversation surrounding the subject is resulting in people being left with an incorrect perception of the issue, and women delaying the move to incontinence underwear. Carol said: “Incontinence is a common problem after giving birth, and is usually associated with older women, but the truth is, the problem can be something women of all ages have to deal with. Incontinence is a problem people need to feel more confident to speak about, and regularly doing pelvic floor exercises are also important.”
Joining Carol Smillie in the fight against suffering in silence, TV personality Nadia Sawalha has also publicly shared her experience with incontinence.
The 51-year-old Loose Women panellist said: “Like a lot of other women, the very last person I wanted to talk to about incontinence was my husband. Even though I talk to him about everything else – this is the on the ‘no go’ zone between us. He¹s seven years younger than me, but I never feel any age gap between us – except when it comes to this. The more that women can talk to each other about this, the more our confidence will grow and enable us to talk to those closest to us.
TV doctor Dr Sara Kayat shed light on why this area of women’s health is not being given enough attention. She said: “There are many ’embarrassing’ conditions that in medicine we are constantly trying to normalise to ensure patients engage with us, for example – blood in stool, bleeding after sex and erectile dysfunction. The same needs to be done in the case of incontinence. This research highlights the lack of discussion of this topic between both friends and family and with healthcare professional – it also shows the psychological and social impact it has on people. British women are willing to put up with something that could be helped with the appropriate incontinence products. I truly believe that if women support each other, there will be more conversation giving women the knowledge and access to appropriate products to help manage their symptoms.”
As many as one in three people over the age of 60 are affected by urinary incontinence, a condition that can leave psychological scars.
Wetting yourself in public is experienced by people as extremely embarrassing, and incontinence is regarded to have potentially serious psychological consequences.
It is thought that as many as 50 percent of people with urinary incontinence do not seek medical help, as they feel embarrassed, are not sure whether they can be helped, or simply hope that the problem will go away by itself.
But physical discomfort and embarrassment are not the only possible consequences of suffering from UI. The psychological effects can be huge too.
“Patients who experience incontinence might experience a significant effect on their self-confidence and dignity,” according to Dr Ulla Botha psychiatrist and senior lecturer at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Stellenbosch. “Depending on the level of incontinence, their general functioning might also be affected, as patients often start to isolate themselves and may avoid social interaction to prevent possible embarrassment. This can even lead to depression.”
If someone withdraws socially as a result of urinary incontinence, it can have a huge impact on their quality of life and their psycho-social well-being. They could become increasingly isolated, not be interested in starting a new relationships and friendships, and develop both anxiety and depression.
Normal activities they used to enjoy could become difficult and they could start avoiding club outings, parties and other social get-togethers, as many people fear the embarrassment of having an “accident” in public. Public toilets are not always conveniently situated.
Scientists are not sure whether suffering from urinary incontinence as such is a contributing factor to depression and anxiety, or whether the depression and anxiety could play a contributory role in the development of urinary incontinence.
Many people who suffer from depression stop taking part in activities they formerly enjoyed – and the same is true of people who suffer from urinary incontinence.
A negative event, such as having an “accident” in public can lead to an alteration of mood and cause anything from sadness to dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem and self-depreciation.
It reported on a study that found that people with urinary incontinence were twice as likely to suffer from depression as those in a control group.
A recent study from the USA has revealed that more than half the people aged 65 or more who live outside nursing homes report episodes of bladder or bowel incontinence, with women experiencing the condition considerably more than men.
12% of women who suffer from urinary incontinence had severe or very severe forms of the condition, while the rest of the women and virtually all the men surveyed reported slight or moderate incontinence according to the study, released by the National Center for Health Statistics, an American government organisation. The study is the first U.S. study to pull together data on incontinence among people living in their own homes, nursing homes, and in residential care facilities and in hospices, as well as people who receive health assistance in their homes. In the past, because different definitions of incontinence were used for the various groups, the researchers had been unable to directly compare the results for one group against each other.
“The purpose was to show…the prevalence and the magnitude of the issue,” said Yelena Gorina, of the agency’s Office of Analysis and Epidemiology. “Because it’s a very serious issue, a very debilitating issue.”
Benjamin Brucker, an assistant professor of urology at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, said that he hoped that a major study that shows how common incontinence is will encourage people to overcome the shame and embarrassment of the condition. “A lot of people that…have incontinence are afraid or fearful or not willing to bring it up to their doctor, and not willing to bring it up to their family members,” Brucker said.
Results varied considerably for people in institutions, from the 39% in residential care facilities who reported an episode of bladder or bowel incontinence during the seven days before they were interviewed to the 75.8% of long-term nursing home residents who could not completely control bladder or bowel function in the 14 days prior to their survey.
As with many other countries, incontinence has become more prevalent in the U.S.A. as the population has aged.
Some more facts and statistics can be found on our Incontinence Statistics page.