Eight in 10 Australian women affected by bladder leakage fail to seek help for the problem, with 72 per cent preferring to laugh off the health issue, according to new health figures.
A national health survey of 1,000 women aged 30 years and older found that, although they were prepared to admit to bladder leakage in discussions with girlfriends, almost three in four 'laughed off" the issue, rather than seeking help for the treatable condition.
Alarmingly, 85 per cent of women who laughed off bladder leakage mistakenly attributed the condition to ageing or having children.
Other key survey findings include:
• 45 per cent did not seek treatment because they didn't consider it a serious enough health issue
• 77 per cent knew pelvic floor muscle exercises could prevent or improve incontinence, but just 2 per cent performed pelvic floor muscle exercises the recommended three times a day
• Sneezing and coughing are the most common triggers of incontinence (68 and 65 per cent respectively)
Speaking ahead of World Continence Week (June 19-25), Continence Foundation of Australia chief executive Rowan Cockerell said the findings showed women were continuing to ignore their health needs:
'While it's good that women feel bladder leakage is an issue they can raise with friends, it is alarming to know that they are simply laughing off the problem and not seeking help for what is a very treatable condition," Ms Cockerell said.
'There continues to be a misconception that incontinence is an inevitable result of having children or ageing, and that's just not true. Incontinence is common, but it's not normal and should be treated just like any other health condition.
'The good news is, treatment usually involves simple lifestyle changes and pelvic floor muscle exercises, which everyone should be doing anyway to prevent incontinence."
Incontinence is one the nation's biggest health burdens, affecting 4.8 million adult Australians – a number predicted to reach 6.5 million by 2030. More than half of the women affected by incontinence are under 50 years old.
'Prevention is always better than a cure, but early treatment is really key to fixing the problem," Ms Cockerell continued. 'People who ignore the issue are often unaware of the impact incontinence has on their lifestyle, whether it be avoiding exercise or limiting social engagements for fear of an embarrassing accident.
'Women shouldn't have to fear winter coughs and spring sneezes when treatment is readily available and has proven to be so successful. Incontinence isn't something you have to put up with for the rest of your life."
Ms Cockerell said people affected by incontinence should phone the Continence Foundation's free National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) for advice or information on local continence services, or go to continence.org.au
Question: What message do you hope to spread this World Continence Week?
Rowan Cockerell: This year's World Continence Week is about telling people that incontinence is 'no laughing matter". We aim to tackle the common response for people to laugh off incontinence, accepting it as -normal' or as an inevitable part of childbirth or ageing. It is common but not normal, so we want to encourage people to take incontinence seriously and to seek help.
Question: What are the symptoms of incontinence?
Rowan Cockerell: Incontinence describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel. Symptoms of bowel and bladder problems range in severity from -just a small leak' when you sneeze, laugh, cough exercise or lift something heavy, to complete loss of bowel and bladder control.
Question: What triggers incontinence?
Rowan Cockerell: Anyone at any age can develop some form of urinary of faecal incontinence, though some health conditions and life events can increase the risks. These include pregnancy (pre and post-natal women), menopause, obesity, urinary tract infections, constipation, specific surgeries (prostatectomy or hysterectomy), reduced mobility, chronic diarrhoea, dementia, and a range of neurological, musculoskeletal and other health conditions. More information regarding risk factors can be found here: https://www.continence.org.au/pages/whos-at-risk.html
Question: Why do many women mistakenly attribute incontinence to having children?
Rowan Cockerell: A recent national survey of 1000 women with bladder leakage found that most (72 per cent) 'laughed it off" when talking to other women about the issue. Alarmingly 85 per cent of the women who laughed it off mistakenly attributed their bladder leakage to ageing or having children, with 45 per cent not bothering to seek treatment because they didn't consider it a serious enough health issue.
Question: What treatment options are available for incontinence?
Rowan Cockerell: Treatment and management options for bladder and bowel problems are dependent on the type of incontinence a person is experiencing. We recommend consulting a health professional to explore the best solution for you.
Question: How can women seek help for incontinence?
Rowan Cockerell: There are many avenues for help with bladder and bowel problems. We recommend starting with discussing your personal situation with your doctor. You can also contact our free National Continence Helpline (M-F 8am – 8pm EST) on 1800 33 00 66 for information, education and advice from continence nurse advisors, and visit our website for a wide range of resources, fact sheets and guides.
Question: What is a pelvic floor muscles exercise and how often should we be performing these?
Rowan Cockerell: Pelvic floor exercises are exercises that safely strengthen your -core', the base group of muscles that make up your pelvic floor. The type and frequency of exercises depends on your specific needs – no two people are the same, so the best program is one that has been specifically developed by a fitness professional or continence professional. Check out our Pelvic Floor First initiative for more information: http://www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au/.
Question: What are the disadvantages with ignoring the signs of incontinence?
Rowan Cockerell: Leaving incontinence issues untreated can lead to all kinds of discomforts that affect your general health, wellbeing and quality of life. In the long term, incontinence issues can worsen and contribute to many serious health problems. Put simply, there are zero advantages to ignoring it - we urge anyone experiencing bowel and bladder problems to seek help from a health professional as soon as possible.
Interview by Brooke Hunter