LIVING WITH INCONTINENCE
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The misconceptions that surround incontinence management can compromise effectiveness, so read on to discover what’s fact, and what is definitely fiction!
1. Accepting incontinence as a part of being a woman or getting older
Some women think that incontinence is inevitable, especially if you’ve had children or are getting older. But that’s just not true. Incontinence is a symptom of an underlying issue, and in older women and mothers, that’s often a weak pelvic floor muscle. If you leak when you sneeze, cough or laugh, it’s because your pelvic floor isn’t strong enough to ‘hold on’ under the pressure and urine is squeezed out. This type of leakage is called stress incontinence. Even if leakage has been experienced for years, you can improve and possibly recover bladder control with simple exercises to strengthening the muscle.
2. Hoping it will go away
Incontinence is unlikely to resolve by itself.
If your incontinence has occurred suddenly, you probably have a Urinary Tract Infection or UTI, which is also unlikely to resolve itself. You can read more about that in this article, Will a UTI go away on its own?. In most cases, you will need a course of antibiotics. You can read more about UTIs, including symptoms, treatments and tips to avoid them, here.
If the cause is a weak pelvic floor muscle, without making sustained lifestyle changes and doing exercises, it will continue to weaken, and your incontinence will get worse.
3. Not discussing your incontinence with a doctor
While the most common causes of incontinence are fairly benign, some more serious conditions may be making you leak. For men, this is typically prostate-related, such as an enlarged gland, a tumour and even cancer. In men and women, incontinence can be the result of bladder cancer, which, although rare, requires correct diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Some medications that can contribute to continence issues, and in some cases, it’s as simple as an adjustment or substitution to fix the problem.
It may require additional testing, but a doctor will be able to work out what’s causing the problem. Once that’s been identified, a program to rectify it can be devised. This usually starts with lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, addressing persistent constipation and pelvic floor exercises, though to surgical options for women and men.
If for no other reason than to rule out any serious conditions that could be causing your incontinence, you must discuss it with your doctor. Many people find broaching the subject embarrassing and stressful. The article on this link, Questions for the Doctor has tips on preparing, raising the topic and discussing the details with your doctor.
4. Going to the toilet – ‘just in case’
Middle-aged and older people were often told to do this as a child, usually before an outing. However, these days, we know that going to the toilet before your bladder is full can be detrimental to its function. It trains it to hold less, which inevitable leads to it actually holding less. This is sometimes called ‘small bladder syndrome’, which is a bit of a misnomer as biologically, no one has a ‘small’ bladder – just one that’s gotten into bad habits. And just as it’s been trained to get into bad habits, it can be retrained to get into good ones. Even if the poor habits have been instilled over many years, retraining using a bladder diary can be very effective.
5. Restricting fluid intake
Reducing the amount of fluid you consumer to limit urine production seems like a logical way to managing incontinence but can, in fact, make it worse. That’s because dehydration causes the urine to become concentrated, which can irritate the bladder. (You can read more about Bladder Irritation here ) . This, in turn, can lead the bladder to suddenly contract or spasm, resulting in urge incontinence. The defining trait of urge incontinence is a sudden and overwhelming need to urinate, often without warning and without sufficient time to get to the toilet.
Carbonated and caffeine-containing drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cola and some energy drinks) can also irritate the bladder and should be avoided. To stay adequately hydrated, make sure you’re drinking around two litres of water a day – more if it’s warm or you’re being particularly active.
6. Staying home and avoiding social situations
While there may be security in staying at home, it’s not good for your emotional wellbeing. Humans are social creatures and isolation can quickly lead to low mood and depression.
Having access to the bathroom and spare clothes and avoiding the embarrassment of an accident can seem appealing, but there are much better ways to manage.
See below for more details on purpose-made products and how they allow you to get back to your regular life – including socially - with confidence.
7. Using period pads
Purchasing period pads can feel a lot less awkward than having to buy incontinence pads – even for post-menopausal women. However, they’re not as effective at managing incontinence as pads made explicitly for that purpose.
That’s because period pads are designed to absorb a slow, seeping, viscous fluid, whereas incontinence products manage the faster, thinner flow of urine. Incontinence pads lock liquid away to prevent odours from developing and keeping the skin’s surface dry.
Some people choose period products because they believe they’re cheaper than incontinence products. However, considering many incontinence liners will absorb more than a small sanitary pad, the savings don’t really add up. You’ll likely need to use many more period products to manage your incontinence compared to purpose-made products.
8. Using toilet paper or towels or wearing extra pairs of underwear
Although these products seem like an easily accessible and discreet way to manage incontinence, they are highly ineffective. Once wet, urine stays in contact with the skin, which can cause irritation and in extreme cases, a breakdown of the surface leaving it sore, stinging and open to infection.
There’s also no odour protection as the urine is left exposed to the air. This allows bacteria to rapidly multiply, causing the strong, tell-tale smell of stale urine. And there’s a high risk of leaks - onto outer clothing and seating.
9. Using pads that are the wrong absorbent
A bit like using period pads or liners, a product that’s insufficiently absorbent for your needs can leave you feeling wet, uncomfortable and insecure. Some people choose too-small products thinking they’re more discreet and comfortable, for others, acknowledging that their condition is getting worse is the barrier.
The TENA range of products, from Liners and Shields through to Pant for Women and Men are all extremely comfortable and virtually unnoticeable under everyday clothing.
On the other hand, a product that’s too absorbent may tempt you to keep using it longer than you should. This is especially problematic if you’re experiencing any faecal leakage, which must be changed straight away.
10. Not bothering with pelvic floor exercises
It doesn’t matter if you don’t play sport or haven’t exercised in years – you can still do pelvic floor exercises. You don’t need any special equipment or clothing, and you can do them lying down, sitting or standing. You can even do them while watching TV, driving and most other activities. Some people know how to do them but don’t remember or can’t be bothered, but they really are the best way to improve control. Check out this article Integrating pelvic floor workouts into your day to find for instructions and tips.
Getting the right product to best manage your incontinence
Finding the right product to suit your needs can be a case of trial and error. To help with this process, TENA developed the Product Finder Tool. This online program steps you through a short series of questions about your situation, then suggests products that may be suitable. You can even order free samples. If they don’t turn out to be just right, jump back online and try some others.
Incontinence has the potential to significantly and negatively impact everyday life, but there are actions you can take to improve and manage it. Discuss it with your doctor and develop an action plan to take back control. In the meanwhile, using purpose-made pads will give you the ultimate form of management.