Urinary Incontinence: Millions of Women Suffer In Silence
National Survey Shows Lack of Knowledge and Communication Forces Women
to Live With Discomfort and Embarrassment
(NAFC, Spartanburg, SC, May 30, 2002) - A recent survey of more than 1,000
American women conducted by Harris Interactive for the National Association
for Continence (NAFC) found significant misconceptions and lack of awareness
about stress urinary incontinence (SUI), the most common type of urinary incontinence,
or bladder leakage. The number of sufferers of stress incontinence, the involuntary
leakage of urine brought on by abdominal "stress" or pressure as a result of
laughing, coughing, sneezing, physical activity, is difficult to quantify because
most women do not seek treatment. Yet the survey showed that the problem affects
nearly one third of American women over the age of 18.
The NAFC survey examined current attitudes and awareness
of stress incontinence among sufferers as well as women in general. NAFC found
that very few women recognize stress urinary incontinence (SUI) as a legitimate
medical condition. Eight out of 10 women mistakenly thought that the symptoms
were a normal part of aging.
"Involuntary urine leakage can strike women in the prime
of their lives. Whether a woman is 30 or 60, she needs to be made aware of
the fact that urine leakage is not normal. Urine leakage at any age is not
acceptable," said Nancy Muller, Executive Director of the National Association
for Continence. "Unfortunately, because the onset of symptoms is often gradual,
many women learn to adjust and only wait until their symptoms become truly unbearable
before seeking any help."
Prevalence of Stress Incontinence
Stress urinary incontinence is the most common form of urinary incontinence.
It is a condition that primarily affects women. One quarter of the women surveyed,
age 18 and older,reported experiencing leakage symptoms in the past month.
Previous research suggested that the prevalence might be as high as one third
of American women over the age of eighteen.
Other key findings included several myths and misconceptions:
- Women mistakenly indicated that having too much sex and drinking too much
water puts them at risk for developing these symptoms.
- Over half believe that stress incontinence symptoms affect only women over
- 40% of women with the condition reported that they began experiencing symptoms
before age 40.
- One in three women are not aware that the primary cause of stress incontinence
Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of stress
urinary incontinence. Other causes of stress incontinence include nerve and
muscle damage, pelvic and abdominal surgery, and general loss of pelvic muscle
tone. Obesity, smoking, constipation, menopause and lung disease can also contribute
to or put a woman at risk for stress incontinence.
NAFC found that many women affected by the condition have
never talked with a physician about the problem or have waited more than a year
before consulting a doctor. Many of these women are not even talking to their
family and friends. The majority of women simply learn to tolerate their symptoms
because they think this is something that is supposed to happen to them.
"Doctors need to know that embarrassment is a major issue
for women with stress urinary incontinence," said Dr. Nicolette Horbach, Associate
Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University
Medical Center and a practicing physician. "I personally suffered from stress
incontinence following the birth of my son, which made it difficult for me to
get down on the floor and run and play with him. I tell my patients embarrassment
shouldn't stop you from living your life."
"We receive calls from women every day whose lives have been
totally disrupted by stress incontinence. It affects careers, relationships
and a woman's overall sense of herself," said Muller. "Sufferers tend to isolate
themselves because they're afraid of going out and having an accident in public.
Many cope with the symptoms by always wearing sanitary pads and avoiding favorite
activities, like exercising, gardening or picking up a child. Women should
not have to live this way."
"Stress urinary incontinence disrupts your life in little
and big ways - from having to wear dark clothes all the time to affecting intimacy,"
said Carolann Zuchowski, who suffered from SUI for five years before seeking
help. "I remember one time I was dancing and, all of a sudden, my pants were
soaked. At that point I figured my life had changed forever, and my dancing
days were numbered."
Knowledge About Options
Research demonstrates that the large majority of women can be helped if they
are properly diagnosed and seek treatment. Ignorance about options lies at
the heart of so many millions avoiding corrective action. New insights into
how the central nervous system functions are leading to discoveries both in
medical devices and pharmaceuticals for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence.
The most important thing a woman can do is take the initiative to get educated,
seek preventive steps and explore new advances in treatment as they are proven
clinically and become commercially available.