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Debunking Myths About Incontinence

  • Incontinence is not a disease after all, but simply a "natural" consequence of aging.  False.  While incontinence or bladder leakage is not a "disease" per se, it certainly is not natural or normal.  Incontinence can be a result of another disease, or an intrinsic problem related to the bladder itself or the nervous system.  You owe it to yourself to see your doctor if you have any urinary leakage at all.
  • Incontinence isn't serious enough for me to worry about.  False.  Incontinence is potentially serious because it indicates that the bladder, its supporting structures, or related organ systems are not functioning properly.  People with incontinence also have a higher incidence of bladder infections and depression.  In addition, people with incontinence generally report a gradual change in their activities of daily living as a result of the unpredictable, inconvenient, and embarrassing nature of incontinence.   It can interfere with just about everything from sleeping to intimate relations to sports and dancing, and even laughing.
  • I'm healthy and I take good care of myself. I can't be at risk.  False.  Unfortunately, incontinence often affects men and women with no particular risk factors and with no particular symptoms.  In addition, many people with incontinence do have risk factors that they are not aware of.
  • I'm too young to worry about incontinence now.  False.  You may be too young to worry, but you're not to young to develop bladder problems.  One out of three women with stress urinary incontinence develop symptoms before the age of 35!
  • I do my Kegel exercises religiously. That will prevent bladder problems.  False.  While Kegel exercises may be effective in preventing stress urinary incontinence in some women, they do not prevent SUI in all women and they don't have any benefit for urge incontinence or overactive bladder. 
  • I'm too old to do anything about incontinence.  False.  Just as you're never too young to start incontinence therapy, you're never too old to take action to keep it from getting worse.  It's never too late to improve lifestyle habits and it's never too late to begin treatment with one of the several medications available.
  • Why bother making a diagnosis? There is no satisfactory treatment and no hope for a cure.  False.  Several medicines are now available to treat incontinence.  FDA-approved medications include:
    • Ditropan XL®
    • Detrol LA ®

In addition, we know that the urinary tract of menopausal women benefits from estrogen replacement therapy.  While this is not a treatment for incontinence, it may help as part of a total management strategy.  Lifestyle changes such as eliminating bladder irritants such as smoking and drinking caffeine are also very helpful.

Many patients with stress incontinence also benefit from treatment devices or minimally invasive surgical approaches.

  • Only "old ladies" get incontinence.  False.  While most patients with incontinence are postmenopausal women, incontinence can affect both men and women, at any age.  One third of women with stress urinary incontinence begin having symptoms by the age of 35.
  • Incontinence doesn't kill anyone.  True.  However, an incontinence patient once wisely observed that while incontinence doesn't kill you, it can "take your life." 

For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click here.

Created: 8/5/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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