Speaking out about urinary incontinence

Never feel embarrassed to talk to your doctor about incontinence.
Never feel embarrassed to talk to your doctor about incontinence.
In South Africa, eight percent of women and three percent of men suffer from incontinence. In extreme cases, almost the only time they don’t feel the pressure to urinate, is when they are actually wetting themselves.

Apart from the obvious discomfort and embarrassment that goes along with the condition, urinary incontinence can take over the lives of its sufferers. Their physical and social activities are limited to places where there’s always a bathroom in sight – no movie theatres, long distance travelling, and definitely no sports.

To avoid embarrassing situations, extreme sufferers steer clear of sexual contact or intimate situations. They carry an extra set of clothes, in case there’s an "accident", and may even have to wear incontinence products, rather like nappies, or protective pads.

Types of urinary incontinence

  • Stress incontinence occurs when urine leaks from the bladder when a person coughs, laughs, sneezes or does any other activity that places stress on the abdomen.

  • Urge incontinence is the leakage of urine associated with a great urgency or desire to urinate that cannot be suppressed. It kicks in, for instance, when the sufferer (who has been fine until this point) gets close to the toilet, and suddenly finds they cannot make it all the way.

  • Overflow incontinence happens when someone has difficulty passing urine, which causes the bladder to be permanently full. As the kidneys continue to produce urine, the excess spills out through the urethra, much like a dam that is overflowing.

  • Total incontinence is the continuous leakage of all the urine. It is most often due to an abnormal communication between the bladder and the vagina (called vesicovaginal fistula).

What’s the solution?
There is a lot that can be done.

“For decades, thousands of women have quietly dealt with what they believed to be incurable ailments; but they don’t have to be silent anymore,” says Lizelle Grindell from the Biofeedback Clinic at the Sunninghill Netcare Hospital.

Various tests, surgical and non-surgical treatment are available.

The Biofeedback Clinic specialises in pelvic muscle rehabilitation, assisted by biofeedback and behavioural therapies. “These treatments are very effective for a variety of bowel and bladder disorders and chronic pain syndromes,” says Grindell. Studies have shown that pelvic muscle exercises, relaxation training, electric stimulation and bladder training is effective in 85 percent of patients, Grindell claims.

The first, and probably the most difficult step, is to acknowledge the condition to your GP - essential if you seek referral to a specialist centre.

Any questions

A special Incontinence Forum will be open on Wednesday, 10 September 2008, where Grindell will be our guest expert - answering all questions readers may have on this condition.

(Wilma Stassen, Health24.com, September 2007)

Read more:
Controlling incontinence
Kidney & bladder problems

National Kidney Foundation
Continence Association of South Africa (CASA)

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