Updated 25 July 2019

It may be embarrassing for you, but it won't be for your doctor - here are some tips on getting that 'uncomfortable' conversation out the way

The risk of urinary incontinence increases as you get older. It’s important to get medical advice, but you may be embarrassed...

Urinary incontinence is a symptom that can be tied to many conditions, from Alzheimer’s to injury to loss of bladder function.

While urinary incontinence is common, especially as we age, it doesn’t get any less embarrassing to address the issue. It is, however, important to get help as soon as you can, as urinary incontinence can severely affect your quality of life if not managed properly.

Dr Prenevin Govender, a Cape Town-based urologist and Health24’s resident urinary incontinence expert, said in a previous article that no instance of urinary incontinence should be ignored, as it’s never completely normal and there are always treatment options.

These tips may help you speak to your doctor:

1. Know that there is something such as doctor-patient confidentiality

You might have been visiting the same doctor for years, or you are settling into a new area and have to get acquainted with an unfamiliar doctor. However, any doctor should be professional and helpful in a situation like yours. If necessary, they might refer you to a urologist to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. And there is something like doctor-patient confidentiality, which means that doctors will not discuss your situation with anyone except colleagues who are involved, or unless you are incapable of taking care of yourself and your family needs to be notified.

2. Know that nothing will surprise your doctor

Society is conditioned to be embarrassed about certain medical conditions. Urinary incontinence is one of those, as demonstrated by a recent survey, which showed that many women are too embarrassed to seek help for this condition. This is, however, unnecessary. Your doctor is trained to deal with all types of bodily functions and medical conditions, and it’s important to be open and honest about what ails you.

3. Be open and honest

Your diagnosis and a treatment plan will require a full medical history. You will help your doctor by being as detailed as possible about your medical history. Mention any previous conditions, medication you are on, and current lifestyle habits as this will help your doctor come up with the correct diagnosis and most effective treatment plan for you.

4. Address the situation immediately

Don’t skirt around the subject and be as thorough and descriptive as possible. You can say, “For the last few months I've been leaking a bit of urine when I sneeze” or “I find that I don’t make it to the toilet in time and this happens several times a week.” Be prepared to address the topic by knowing exactly when you leak urine and whether there are certain triggers. Keeping a bladder diary may help.

5. Be prepared (and ask questions)

You might not walk away from your doctor’s appointment with immediate answers and reasons for your urinary incontinence. Be ready to be referred to a urologist for further tests. Drink water before your appointment as you might have to give a urine sample. Come prepared with a list of questions you want to ask the doctor. Also don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation if you feel unsure about anything. Read here for more information on different treatment options.

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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