Skip to main content

Incontinence is common—but it doesn't have to be

A woman with white hair gives a little girl a piggyback ride.

Nov. 29, 2018—If you sometimes leak urine when you sneeze, cough or hurry to find a toilet, you're by no means alone, a new poll of U.S. women over 50 shows.

Urinary incontinence is common, especially as women get older. But it isn't an inevitable part of aging. Both nonsurgical and surgical treatments are available. Unfortunately, many women do not seek help from a doctor—sometimes because of embarrassment or the belief that incontinence is a normal part of aging.

The poll involved 1,027 women ages 50 to 80. Of these, 43 percent in their 50s and early 60s experienced at least some degree of urinary incontinence in the past year; 51 percent of women 65 and older had leaked urine. The most common triggers for leakage? Coughing and sneezing, trying to get to a bathroom on time, laughing and exercising.

Self-care strategies revealed

Of the women who leaked urine, 41 percent said it was a major problem or somewhat of a problem. For nearly 1 in 3 of these women, leakage was almost a daily issue. And yet most hadn't told a doctor. Instead, many women tried to deal with their incontinence on their own. For instance, many used pads or special underwear to absorb leaks. Others cut back on fluids or wore dark clothing to hide accidents.

Kegel exercises are one common treatment option. The exercises help strengthen the pelvic muscles that hold back urine. But only 38 percent of the women had tried Kegel exercises.

Many of the women said they did not tell their doctor about their leakage because they did not view it as a real health problem. However, even occasional incontinence can limit how a person lives their life. And it may negatively affect their health and well-being, according to the researchers. For instance, they pointed out that fear of leaking urine may prevent some women from exercising. And lack of exercise can affect overall health.

Time to speak up

Are you embarrassed about talking about incontinence with your doctor? Don't be. It's more common than you might think. And doctors and health care providers are used to talking about sensitive issues. Check out these tips to help you get the conversation started.

Read more breaking news Related stories