Updated 06 February 2018

When should you see a doctor for urinary incontinence?

When is incontinence normal? Experts say never. Read on to see when you should visit your doctor.

You know it’s happening – as you cough or sneeze, you feel a small bit of leakage. You have put off seeing a doctor because you are too embarrassed to talk about it. You also regard it as more of an inconvenience and embarrassment than a health threat.

No single treatment

However, upon investigation we found that any incontinence should be seen and treated as a medical condition – and you should see your doctor without delay, even if you're dreading the appointment.

Urinary incontinence isn’t an illness itself, but a condition that could have a serious underlying cause. There are different factors that can cause urinary incontinence. There is no single treatment for incontinence itself, and your options will depend on the type and severity of your incontinence.

Dr Prenevin Govender, a urologist based in Claremont, Cape Town, and Health24’s go-to expert for incontinence, says, “Incontinence is never ‘normal’ and if you experience it, you should always go to your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a urologist.”

So if you are still embarrassed or wondering if a bit of “leaking” now and then is serious enough to warrant a doctor’s appointment, you have your answer. It's even more important to go in the following cases:

1. When your incontinence happens suddenly

Sudden incontinence can be an indication of an underlying medical problem such as urinary stones or tumours. It is best to make an appointment with your doctor to establish the cause as soon as possible.

2. When your incontinence is affecting your lifestyle

Embarrassment caused by incontinence can be kept to a minimum as there are options available. If you find you need to use absorbent pads and frequently need to change underwear, and if you are anxious about exercise, intimacy and being too far from a bathroom, you need to see your doctor.

3. When you constantly experience a full bladder

If you frequently experience bladder pressure to such an extent that you are permanently uncomfortable, you need to see your doctor as this may signify an underlying condition. 

Prepare for your doctor’s appointment

Are you struggling to pluck up the courage to see your doctor? It doesn’t need to be scary.

  • Drink water beforehand – your doctor might ask you for a urine sample.
  • Come with questions and don’t be embarrassed to talk openly to your doctor.
  • Discuss your medical history and things that may possibly increase your risk for incontinence such as vaginal births, pregnancy, or menopause.
  • Be prepared to be referred to a urologist if there is an underlying problem.

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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