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Incontinence

15 June 2019

5 reasons why you shouldn’t leave urinary incontinence untreated

No matter how embarrassed you feel about urinary incontinence, it should never be ignored. Here’s what can happen if you don't address the problem.

Urinary incontinence can be embarrassing for patients to talk about. Silence, however, is not a viable option as the condition can have far-reaching complications if left untreated.

According to statistics, many women are hesitant to seek treatment for urinary incontinence. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology states that more than a third of middle-aged or older women suffer from a form of urinary incontinence, but that only half of them seek intervention. This cohort study interviewed at least 969 women over the age of 40, all from Northern California, with readily-available access to healthcare.

A more recent poll released in 2018 doesn’t show any improvement in the awareness of the need to treat incontinence: More than 1 000 women between the ages of 50 and 80 took part in the poll and more than 50% admitted to suffering from urinary incontinence in some form – yet two-thirds of these women have never consulted a doctor as they reckon the issue is “too embarrassing”.

The following are some of the consequences of ignoring the issue:

1. An underlying issue can escalate into something more serious

If your urinary incontinence is caused by an underlying medical problem such as a urinary tract infection or bladder issue, the problem may go unnoticed and become more serious over time. When an infection goes untreated, it might travel into the kidneys and bloodstream, according to Harvard Medical School.

Urinary incontinence may also signify cancer of the pelvic region, cancers of the brain or spinal cord, affecting the nerves surrounding the bladder. It can also be the result of a neurological condition like Alzheimer’s disease.

No form of urinary incontinence should be left unchecked, according to the Urology Hospital in Pretoria.

2. Urinary incontinence can affect your mental health in the long run

According to the National Association for Continence, the constant fear of having an accident in public and not making it to the bathroom in time can severely impact mental health and lead to depression as sufferers become more and more isolated from friends and family.

A person might also experience anger and frustration about the condition and why it’s affecting them, as well as anxiety. Research has shown that there is a strong link between urinary incontinence and mental health issues. Conditions like depression can be debilitating in the long run.

3. Urinary incontinence can affect your general quality of life

If you were living an active, social lifestyle before urinary incontinence, but no longer want to go out because of the fear of an embarrassing accident, it doesn’t only impact your mental health, but also your physical well-being.

You might suddenly become inactive due to a fear of exercising. This can lead to weight gain, which may exacerbate urinary incontinence as extra weight places pressure on the urethra.

If you're worried about incontinence at work, it might affect your productivity. It may also have an impact on personal relationships as you try to hide the condition from your partner or immediate family members.

4. Urinary incontinence may increase your risk for infections

Urinary incontinence can lead to an increased risk for repeated urinary tract infections when the bladder never completely empties. This can lead to kidney damage in the long run.

Skin infections are also a possibility as the bacteria in urine eventually weaken the skin’s protective barrier, making it more susceptible to contact dermatitis and other forms of inflammation, causing painful rashes and sores.

5. Urinary incontinence is linked to more rapid decline in the elderly

Research has shown that untreated urinary incontinence in older adults can have remarkably negative consequences on their overall physical and mental health, which may lead to a more rapid decline and earlier death.

A study published in Urology states that urological conditions such as incontinence cause elderly adults to fall and suffer serious injuries more often as the frequent need for urination causes them to hurry to the bathroom. When urinary incontinence is addressed and managed, the risk of such injuries declines. 

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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