By Brenda Stickley 1 February 2017
Mary* came to me for help. Now in her seventies, she had been living with urinary incontinence for most of her life. It came about after childbirth. Over the years, she had undergone two surgeries to correct the problem, but the surgeries made no difference. At her fifth individual session with me, Mary shared that she was no longer needing pads. The leaking had stopped. She couldn’t quite believe it herself.
As much as I shared Mary’s joy, there was a part of me that felt saddened. I wondered how her life could have been different had she received this help as a younger woman. What different choices would she have made if incontinence hadn’t been a major factor to have to consider?
Unfortunately, there are many women living with urinary incontinence. A 2009 New Zealand study found that 25% women in the 20 – 55 age group and 34% in the 55+ age group experience this problem, be it mild or severe . Thousands of otherwise active and healthy women live life with this secret. Yet no one talks about incontinence. And the burden of hiding the problem is huge – both in terms of worry, and financially. Mary said to me at her final visit, “You have no idea how this changes my life.” I had an inkling.
Incontinence can have a deeply personal impact on women’s life. The uncertainty of living with the ever-present possibility of having an episode of incontinence can be disabling. Not knowing when the next episode will happen means constant vigilance. Padding up, choosing clothes to wear that will disguise what feels too obvious, needing to know where the toilet is and that it is easily accessible. Self-consciousness around personal hygiene and odours, fear of being incontinent in front of others, not being comfortable in a sexual relationship, not exercising actively and avoiding laughing, sneezing, or coughing (as if you can!). The worry can be exhausting. It is understandable why some might find it easier to stay at home but then the risk of isolation and depression become real.
Then there’s the financial burden. Protective undergarments and absorbency products are big business. A quick look at an online shopping site shows 58 different products that are pads, 31 that are panty liners, and some adult “super pants” that are worn as normal underwear. There are also specialty websites that sell “continence” products. A packet of eight adult pull-up pants costs $16.14. If you wear four a day for a year, it will set you back $3000. If you wear four Libra Invisible Super pads a day at .50¢ each, you’ll spend $730 in a year. It adds up fast to a lot of money that could be spent on the mortgage, kids, new car, or a holiday! Unfortunately, the cost continues year after year. It doesn’t stop unless the problem stops and typically, the problem worsens with aging.
Like Mary, those who do seek help have often not got the results they were looking for. Those experiences reinforce feelings of helplessness and put women at risk of losing hope. There are three important things to know:
- You are not alone – many people have this condition
- You do not have to just “live with it”
- You can find help
It takes courage to seek help and to talk about it. Mary was willing to trust someone and I’m glad that was me. Just as important, she came with an open mind and a willingness to learn more about herself and how her body functioned, and she was motivated to practice what I taught her.
As a team, working together, we regained healthy function of Mary’s pelvic floor. As happy as I am about that, what made me happiest was to replace her feelings of helplessness with a sense of empowerment and the sense of freedom that being in control again can bring. And all the money she will save? A well-earned bonus.
In the end it hadn’t taken much to fix. All it took was a phone call.
Incontinence – what are the symptoms?
There are two main types of incontinence :
Stress incontinence refers to leakage when coughing, laughing, or sneezing or with exertion. Usually just a small jet of urine escapes, and it becomes bothersome when it happens frequently. Stress incontinence mainly affects females.
Urge incontinence refers to the leakage that occurs after a strong urge to void and which the person is unable to defer, requiring a rush to the toilet.
Other symptoms include a feeling that the bladder is not completely empty, poor urine flow, and straining to empty the bladder. Frequent urinary tract infections can occur. Wetting the bed, or getting up to urinate twice or more at night.
Urge incontinence is often more bothersome than other forms of incontinence and the amount leaked is often larger. Urge incontinence affects both males and females.
A mixed pattern of incontinence with features of both stress and urge symptoms can also occur.
Early treatment and behavioural change can mean longer term prevention of ongoing or more significant issues.
* Name has been changed to protect client confidentiality