Myths and stigma plague women’s incontinence, with many people wrongly assuming it only impacts elderly women, according to new research.
Polling, carried out by YouGov, found around three quarters of people think only elderly women experience urinary incontinence despite the fact one in three women suffer incontinence at a range of ages.
The study, shared exclusively with The Independent, discovered only around one in ten of the women polled had discussed urinary incontinence with a friend, while just six per cent had done so with a nurse.
The report, which polled 2,000 people, also found women wait an average of seven years before getting help for stress incontinence despite the fact 84 per cent of women are cured of it after six sessions of pelvic floor physiotherapy. Stress incontinence refers to when coughing, laughing, running or other movements make someone release urine.
While urinary incontinence is far more common among women, men can also suffer incontinence or bladder weakness, researchers noted.
Eliza* said: “I started to occasionally leak during pregnancy with my first daughter, four years ago. I’ve experienced it ever since then. When I’m doing sport it’s particularly bad, but it can also be when I’m sneezing if my bladder is a bit full.”
The 34-year-old added: “I wish people knew how common it is, and therefore talked about it more. I have had one or two conversations with other mums about it, and it’s been so refreshing to have a bit of a giggle and moan about our experiences. It has helped me feel less shameful about it.”
While Lola*, who starting experiencing incontinence when she was 26 after suffering health issues, added: “At 26 I shouldn’t be having incontinence, especially not all day and in my sleep. How do you handle this at my age?
“It’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing and when you have urine seeping through your underwear, you don’t exactly feel like a confident woman”.
Researchers warned the stigma that pervades incontinence appears to be stopping people from opting for the correct products.
Four in ten had chosen to use period pads or liners rather than incontinence products – and around a quarter had never used any products altogether to help with bladder leakage.
Angie’s own account of incontinence tallies with these findings - with her explaining the “last thing” she wanted was to “stare at incontinence products” so she instead opted for period products.
Sharna Waid, of Natracare, a period-care brand, which was also involved in the study, said: “The fact that most people assume only elderly women experience incontinence further perpetuates shame and stigma around the condition and we need to do more to normalise the condition amongst young people and educate from an earlier age.”
*Names changed to protect identity