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We Need to Talk About Incontinence

It can be an awkward subject, but a more open conversation around incontinence is exactly what’s needed to drive real innovation, says specialist Professor Mandy Fader.

Mandy Fadar
Pictured: Mandy Fader, Dean of Health Sciences and Professor of Continence Technology at the University of Southampton

While it is often treatable, incontinence will affect about 1 in 4 of us at some point as a result of a bladder or bowel problem, an operation, conditions such as multiple sclerosis or sometimes for no very clear reason. If incontinence cannot be cured it needs to be managed with pads and devices to enable people to lead a normal life without fear of leakage.

Professor Mandy Fader, Dean of Health Sciences and Professor of Continence Technology at the University of Southampton, says that there is a real need to talk about incontinence and boost creativity among medical manufacturers.

Improving Dignity

“Men are particularly distressed by incontinence,” she says. “Women have periods, child birth, they’re more used to managing and discussing leakage. Men have no experience; they take a stoical attitude and tend to distance themselves from what they perceive as a great indignity. They’ll tell doctors their condition isn’t too bad, but their wives will immediately say, ‘It’s terrible’.

“More open conversation around incontinence is exactly what’s needed.”

“I’d encourage men to be more forthcoming and to have honest discussions with their doctors and nurses. If men realised it’s quite a common condition, and made more of a fuss, there would be even more improvements made within the industry. For example “pads are now made with a super-absorbent gel which reduces odour and stops leakage – the two main fears of discovery,” explains Fader. “Design has improved too: there are now pads specifically for men which cup the penis and scrotum.” Men have other options too such as a penile sheath attached to a leg-bag which can be better for journeys: “For a man it might be unacceptable to have to open their suitcase full of pads at an airport, and a sheath can be a more manly option that can be easier to change.”

Catheters and Coatings

There is positive news for both short- and long-term catheter users. Fader explains that there is now a drive in hospitals to use catheters only when most effective. “As a patient, you may be lying there after an operation feeling you don’t want to get up and go to the loo, but the longer you have the catheter in, the higher your risk of infection.”

There is also lot of research going on into how to avoid bacterial build-up (biofilm) in catheters for long-term users, such as cancer survivors. Biofilm can cause distressing blockages and infections, but “we’re hoping for a breakthrough in the materials used in the coatings,” says Fader.

Choosing a ‘Mix’ of Pads and Devices

It’s important to be aware that all products and devices have strengths and weaknesses and may work better for different people and different activities or times of the day, and that there are plenty of designs which aren’t available in pharmacies but can be found online.

“If more men made a fuss, there would be even more improvements within the industry.”

“Incontinence can be severely disruptive to people’s lives, and that’s where products come in,” says Fader, who suggests visiting www.continenceproductadvisor.org to research options. “We need to see choices, a variety of discreet, effective, reliable options that are comfortable and easy to use, and washable items that avoid waste.”

“We need to make sure that incontinence is treated whenever possible, but for people who have permanent incontinence it needs to be much more socially acceptable,” she insists. “Loads of people have long-term conditions – it’d be good if we got to the point where somewhere like IKEA sells these products and it’s an acceptable part of living.”

Related Article:

How Menopause and Urinary Incontinence are Related

How Menopause and Urinary Incontinence are Related

Menopause can often create new experiences to you with some of them difficult to deal with, for example; there may be weight gain, hot sweats, mood swings and much more.

Menopause and Incontinence

One difficulty you may experience with the menopause is an overactive or sensitive bladder. If you do experience this, be assured that you are not alone as urinary incontinence is quite a common issue for menopausal women.

Regardless of how common this issue is, an overactive bladder can be embarrassing and hard to live with, your personal life can be affected as well as your exercise routine and your social life may become affected. To overcome these issues, you need to find the right incontinence solutions and products to suit you.

Never Lose Hope

It is important to know that urinary incontinence can be treated, sometimes cured or at the least properly managed. What you should not do is ignore the problem and hope that it goes away. This will rarely go away on its own and will often become worse over time.

It is better to educate yourself about why you are experiencing incontinence and how it is connected to menopause. It is important to know what the symptoms of this are, the reasons for it and what you can do to treat this.

The Symptoms of Menopausal Incontinence

There are a number of common signs of a menopausal sensitive bladder and you need to know what they are. The first sign is that you leak urine when you exercise, cough or sneeze. Another sign is when you leak urine on your way to the bathroom. Waking up more than twice during the night to urinate and frequent urinary tract infections will also be signs of this problem.

The Common Causes of a Menopausal Sensitive Bladder

There are a few reasons why you might be having urinary incontinence during menopause. It is important to know what some of the most common reasons will be.

Weak pelvic floor muscles are the first cause that you should know about. Your pelvic floor muscles will naturally weaken during menopause. However, when this happens you will have less bladder control, and this will cause more frequent urination in menopausal women.

A prolapse during menopause will be when organs start to sag against the pelvic floor. There are some women who describe feeling a lump in the vagina where the organ is sagging against the pelvic floor. The organ that is sagging could be the bladder, the uterus or the bowel. Prolapse will cause strain on the pelvic floor.

Another cause will be a reduction in bladder elasticity. The elasticity at the base of the bladder could slacken and this will cause problems as it cannot stretch correctly to accommodate the liquid that fills it. This will result in your bladder being irritated as it fills which will cause the sensation of an overactive bladder. This will make you feel like going to the bathroom more than you need.

When menopause starts, estrogen will no longer be produced by the body. When this happens, your body will become more susceptible to incontinence as estrogen helps to keep the tissues around the bladder strong. The lack of estrogen can cause the bladder to stop working in the way that it was.

There are many women who suffer from weight gain during menopause. This will affect your pelvic floor muscles as they support much of your body weight. When these muscles are strained by excess weight, they will not be able to support your bladder correctly which leads to stress incontinence.

How to Manage Urinary Incontinence

The first step you should take in managing your urinary incontinence is to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles with contraction exercises. You should also try and stay as close to your normal healthy weight as possible. To protect against urinary tract infections, you will need to keep up with personal hygiene, be careful when you wipe and ensure that you drink fluids (preferable water) on a regular basis.

These management methods will work, but the overall effectiveness will depend on the cause of your incontinence. This is why you need to talk to your doctor when you see the first signs of urinary incontinence. They will be able to diagnose the cause and offer additional treatment options if you need them. You could ask your doctor about training or surgery that could treat a prolapse or find out if there are any other underlying causes for your overactive bladder.

Incontinence products such as disposable pads, pants and nappies are readily available, you can even purchase washable pants and knickers that look and feel just like normal underwear but have a built-in absorbent pad to help manage light leakage.

Regardless of the route, you take to treat this, you need to keep in mind that many women have bladder control issues at this stage of their life. Having a sensitive bladder does not have to take over your your day-today activities and get in the way of living a fulfilling life.

Related Article: We Need to Talk About Incontinence