17 July 2018

8 incontinence myths busted

Don't use a sanitary pad for incontinence. Having a baby is not guaranteed to cause bladder leaks. Here are eight myths about incontinence busted.

Incontinence can be an embarrassing condition to deal with but it doesn't have to be. Don't be afraid to speak to your doctor if you accidentally leak urine when you laugh, or soak through your clothes because you can't make it to the bathroom on time.

Here are eight myths about incontinence busted.

1. Incontinence affects everyone in the same way

Incontinence can be an occasional leak or it could cause you to leave puddles, which means it affects everyone differently. There are two common types of incontinence:

Stress incontinence occurs when pressure on the bladder (from coughing, sneezing or running) causes a person to leak urine.

Urge incontinence (or overactive bladder) results in urine loss that occurs with a sudden and strong urge to pee.

2. You can just use a sanitary pad to catch urine leaks

Don’t be tempted to do this, especially if you need daily protection. Incontinence products have been carefully designed to collect and hold urine. They contain a polymer that helps absorb urine. Plus, incontinence pads hold much more fluid than menstrual pads.  

Woman buying sanitary pads

3. Surgery is the only option for successful treatment of incontinence

Surgery can help treat stress incontinence, but it’s usually a last resort for older adults when other treatments have failed. There are a number of options you can try, including behavioural treatments, lifestyle changes, exercise or medication. Speak to your doctor to find the best course of treatment for you.

Doctor in theatre

4. Incontinence products are unhygienic

Living with incontinence does not mean you have to feel as though you are constantly wet or unclean. “There’s no question – incontinence will make a man feel damp or unclean,” says Dr Edward Matsumoto, a urologist at the McMaster Insitute of Urology at St Joseph’s Healthcare in Canada. However, to prevent this wet or unhygienic feeling, find an incontinence product that works for you. They also help hide urine odours, which will make you feel less self conscious.

Man smells bad in lift

5. Having a baby will cause incontinence

Although giving birth may bring incontinence on sooner, not all women who have a baby will develop the condition – factors such as genetics, lifestyle or ageing can all cause a woman to suffer from incontinence. In fact, a study done by the University of Rochester Medical Center "showed the same prevalence in nuns suffering from incontinence as their biological sisters who had given birth".

Man and pregnant woman lying on bed

6. Prostate surgery causes incontinence in men

Some men may experience temporary incontinence following prostate surgery, while up to 10% may experience it six months post-surgery. However, it more commonly affects men who were incontinent before the operation, men who have nervous system diseases or have had previous surgeries.

Doctor consults patient

7. Reducing your fluid intake will prevent embarrassing leaks

While it might make sense to reduce your fluid intake if you suffer from incontinence, it may actually cause more harm than good. Firstly, you will risk becoming dehydrated, which can cause severe damage to your body. Secondly, not drinking enough water will cause your urine to become concentrated. This can irritate your bladder, which may lead to an accident – and, should you leak, concentrated urine has a much stronger and more noticeable smell.

How much you need to drink per day varies from person to person, but the general rule of thumb is to check your urine colour – when you’re well hydrated it’s a light yellow colour. Dehydration will show up as a much darker yellow.

woman drinking water

8. When you need to pee, run to the bathroom

Running to the bathroom when you feel the need to pee is a natural reaction when you have urge incontinence. However, Dr Uduak Andy, a urogynaecologist at Penn Medicine, says, “You’re not going to make it. You’re not going to be able to run your way to the bathroom.” What does she suggest? “When you have that really bad urge, stop, take a deep breath, and do a really strong Kegel to contract your pelvic floor muscles. The contraction will break a bladder spasm. Then, you can walk to the bathroom.” 

Woman who needs to pee

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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