What Is Incontinence and What Should You be Aware of?

Incontinence is a common problem among people across the world. 25 million Americans suffer from some kind of incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. Worldwide, the number of people suffering from incontinence is estimated at 400 million, according to the Global Forum on Incontinence.

Unfortunately, many misconceptions continue to surround the condition. In an NAFC survey of 1,000 women conducted in 2002, 80 percent of respondents declared that incontinence was “a normal part of aging.” Half of these same respondents declared that incontinence was exclusively a problem for women over 50 (neither of these statements is accurate).

To debunk the misinformation, myths, and malarkey about incontinence, let’s look at some facts.

What is incontinence?
Being “incontinent” means being unable to hold back the flow of body discharges. The result is unwanted leakage of these discharges, which of course is an alarming and embarrassing situation for any individual to confront.

There are two main types of incontinence: urinary and fecal. Urinary incontinence is more common than fecal incontinence.  Incontinence can be caused by other problems in the body, including prostate problems and nerve damage, and can range in severity from minor leaks to major accidents.

The two most common types of urinary incontinence are, according to the National Institutes of Health, 1) stress incontinence and 2) urge incontinence. Stress incontinence, which causes leaks from pressure caused by laughing, coughing, sneezing or lifting, stems from weak bladder muscles. Urge incontinence, on the other hand, is caused by overactive bladder muscles (that’s why the condition is sometimes referred to as “overactive bladder”). People suffering from urge incontinence feel the need to urinate even when their bladders are not full.

The other main type of incontinence is fecal incontinence. Like urinary incontinence, the symptoms of fecal incontinence range in severity, and come in two forms: 1) urge incontinence, in which the sufferer feels the need to defecate but is unable to reach the toilet in time, and 2) passive incontinence, in which the sufferer feels no urge to defecate and ends up soiling him/herself.

What can I do about it?
Perhaps the most damaging misconception about incontinence is that it’s an inevitable byproduct of aging that nothing can be done about. It isn’t. So please keep in mind that:

  • Incontinence may be a symptom of a condition that’s treatable. Talk to your doctor, or your loved one’s doctor, to determine the precise cause of the kind of incontinence that’s being experienced. Effective treatments abound for many forms of incontinence, ranging from medicine to surgery to physical exercises. Don’t let embarrassment get in the way of developing accurate information that you can use to help yourself.
  • Today’s incontinence control products make it easier than ever to cope with incontinence. There are many products on the market today that make it possible for incontinence sufferers to enjoy a much higher quality of life by containing the problem. For example, washable panties and briefs control leakage, eliminate odor, and they come in surprisingly fashionable styles. Waterproof underpads and bed pads are available to protect chairs, wheelchairs, mattresses, and bedding. The availability of these products means that there’s no need to let incontinence prevent you or your loved one from enjoying a full, active life.

Remember, lots of people suffer from incontinence. You are not alone! And while yes – the condition is distressing and awkward to discuss — it’s important for you to talk to your doctors or caregivers about it as you would any other medical issue.

The more you and they know about the type of incontinence that’s being experienced, the more likely it will be that an effective management plan can be put into place to benefit all concerned.