By GBALLGIGGSPHOTO / Shutterstock.com
Urinary incontinence is more common than you think — although you might not know that even if you do have incontinence yourself because the topic is so taboo that almost no one talks about it outside of a medical context. Urinary incontinence might be kept hush-hush, but the reality of it is that millions of people suffer from it every day. Here’s what you need to know about the basics of urinary incontinence, how many people suffer from it, and what you can do to help normalize incontinence.
What is urinary incontinence?
The first step to normalizing urinary incontinence starts with learning about the different types of incontinence. Urinary incontinence refers to involuntary leakage of urine — basically, when you leak or pee without meaning to. There are several different types of urinary incontinence:
- Stress incontinence: This happens when an outside force causes an episode of incontinence. Common triggers include coughing, jumping, sneezing, and laughing — anything that puts physical stress on your body. If you’ve ever wondered why you pee while running, this is why.
- Overflow incontinence: You experience dribbling or leaking because your bladder does not empty fully. You may or may not get the urge to urinate and may only notice the leakage after the fact.
- Urge incontinence: You get the overwhelming urge to urinate, followed by the involuntary release of urine. You might also get the urge to urinate extremely frequently (think more than seven times during the day, and more than once during the night).
- Functional incontinence: In this case, there’s nothing wrong with your urinary system — rather another mental or physical impairment keeps you from making it to the bathroom in time once you get the urge. For instance, someone with arthritis might not be able to move fast enough to get to the toilet in time.
- Mixed incontinence: This term refers to having more than one type of urinary incontinence at once.
Your doctor will work with you to help determine the causes of your incontinence and to devise a management or treatment place that addresses the underlying factors, whether that’s medications, pelvic floor exercise, or bladder training. The incontinence may be chronic or temporary, and, in some cases, it may go away on its own. For instance, if your incontinence is caused by an infection, then clearing up the infection will help your incontinence subside. Many women also experience incontinence during and after their pregnancies, but find that it gets better on its own as their body heals post-birth.
How many people experience urinary incontinence?
It’s estimated that about 13 million Americans have urinary incontinence. Women are twice as likely to have urinary incontinence as men. The likelihood of developing urinary incontinence in adulthood increases with age, and it’s estimated that up to 50 percent of women over the age of 50 have incontinence — that’s half of senior women, a big chunk of the population! It can be hard to get exact numbers because many people keep their incontinence a secret and don’t want anyone to know. Even though so many adults in the United States have urinary incontinence, it’s still considered a hush-hush topic by many.
Learn how to normalize urinary incontinence.
Clearly, incontinence is a common issue and it needs to be normalized in everyday society. So how exactly can we make incontinence seem as ordinary and commonplace as it actually is? Here are four suggestions:
- Be frank about your needs. You can have a great quality of life even with incontinence, but you may need certain accommodations, such as using the restroom more frequently on trips. Be honest with your friends and family about your needs and what help you need from them. It’s much better to be open with your loved ones than to keep silent and then end up wetting yourself because you were afraid to ask for another bathroom stop or for them to pick up some incontinence pads for you. Peeing is a normal and necessary part of being human. You just have to do it a little more often than others, so don’t be shy about it.
- Don’t hide your care products. Speaking of not being shy, leaving out incontinence products such as bladder leakage pads can be a great way to tacitly normalize incontinence. You don’t have to go around announcing it to everyone in public, but small gestures like this within the comfort of your own home help it seem like something normal and everyday. Besides, you never know when you might spark a constructive conversation with one of your house guests.
- Educate yourself, and then others. Many people are shocked to discover just how many Americans are struggling with incontinence. However, you can’t educate other people if you don’t educate yourself first. Learn all that you can about incontinence and its prevalence so that you are armed with the facts if anyone you know does want to start a conversation about incontinence.
- Find a community of support. Many women feel alone in their incontinence journey, even though so many other people are experiencing it. Seek out communities of support, either online or in person, to meet other people who are also learning how to manage their incontinence. It will make you feel less alone and help you realize just how many people have incontinence.
Incontinence deserves to become more normalized. Peeing is a natural part of being human, and just like any other physical activity, it can go a bit awry sometimes. That’s nothing that you or anyone else should be ashamed of! Follow these four tips to help normalize incontinence and start spreading the word about bladder leakage.