03 August 2020

Older women at-risk of urinary incontinence aren’t discussing symptoms with their doctors

Half of women over 50 experience urinary incontinence, a condition that can compromise their quality of life. Yet, many women don’t feel the need to seek treatment.

  • Urinary incontinence affects more than 200 million people worldwide
  • The condition is much more prevalent in women than in men
  • A recent survey revealed that most women with the condition don't bring up the topic with their doctors

Urinary incontinence (UI), the involuntary leakage of urine, is a condition that is more common in women than men and can occur at any age, but  is especially prevalent in women over the age of 50, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine

Despite this, only a fraction of women with the condition actually discuss their symptoms with their doctors. This is according to a recent study that surveyed 94 692 women between the ages of 49 to 91 with UI. The results revealed that a low 34% of women had had conversations about their condition with their healthcare provider.

The study was published in the Journals of Gerontology

UI not viewed as a big deal

The authors of the study surveyed middle-aged and older women suffering from UI with the aim of  examining this question outside issues of healthcare access. The surveys included detailed information about UI, such as frequency, amount and type (there are four types of UI).

Giulia Lane, M.D., M.S., a fellow with the University of Michigan Department of Urology and a team of experts who conducted the study explained that past research indicates that many women don’t view UI as a big deal, or as a normal part of ageing, despite its association with decreased quality of life, and therefore don’t care to seek help.

Science Daily reported on a 2018 poll by the University of Michigan, which also revealed that out of more than 1 000 women between the ages of 50 and 80 who answered the poll, 43% in their 50s and early 60s said they had experienced UI, as did 51% of women aged 65 and older. However, two-thirds of these women also disclosed that they hadn't spoken to a doctor about it.

Women over 80 least likely to seek care

The survey further revealed that women over 80, who are among those experiencing the most severe symptoms, were even less likely to have discussed the condition.

Lane explained that the findings present a significant opportunity to screen older women for incontinence, as the condition is a major risk factor for placement in nursing home care, notes an article by Michigan Medicine. She hopes this study will help healthcare providers triage women’s preventive health guidelines to screen for UI, particularly in the oldest patients.

“I’m hopeful that women will start the conversation about urinary incontinence with their clinicians and find the treatment option that’s right for them,” Lane said.

READ | Could you be at risk of urinary incontinence?


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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