17 – 23 June is World Incontinence Week, so let’s talk about it…
By Professor Dr. Haluk Kulaksizoglu
HealthHub by Al Futtaim, DFC
Urinary incontinence – the involuntary leakage of urine – is extremely common, especially in women. But despite it being more prevalent than many other medical conditions that we hear about regularly, we don’t really talk about it.
The 17 – 23 June marks World Incontinence Week and Professor Dr. Haluk Kulaksizoglu, Specialist Urologist at HealthHub Al Futtaim wants people to start talking. “Urinary Incontinence is a condition that we rarely discuss in public,” he said. “It is seen as an embarrassing condition; however, it is a medical condition and can be treated successfully. By talking about it, we can help raise awareness and encourage people to get the right treatment.”
Incontinence can be seen in both the male and female population. Female incontinence is more common. We will first focus on female incontinence. The condition affects many women in the UAE, with around 42.2% of the female adult population experiencing it at some point in their lives. It is mostly caused by laxation of the pelvic floor muscles, or because of overactivity of the bladder muscles.
There are different types of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence – The most common ones.
- Overactive bladder – They usually may co-exist called mixed type incontinence
- Overflow incontinence
- Total incontinence
Stress incontinence is uncontrolled leakage of urine in situations where abdominal pressure is increased such as coughing, laughing, sneezing lifting heavy objects or even when climbing stairs.
In overactive bladder incontinence, besides the leakage of urine we feel the urge to urinate frequently and cannot control it. The functional bladder capacity is decreased even though there is a constant feeling of fullness of the bladder. A pelvic prolapse, child bearing, weight gain and constipation as well as hormonal problems can all contribute to incontinence.
Living with urinary incontinence can have a big impact on quality of life. “I speak to many women who are too afraid to go out.” Dr. Haluk adds, “They don’t want to risk leakage in public and are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it – even their doctor.” To take control of their leakage some even stop drinking fluids, which may be very dangerous in the long term for kidney functions, especially in the elderly.
He points out that many women see incontinence as a normal part of aging and they just live with it. “This is not true,” says Dr. Haluk. “Any form of urinary leakage is not normal and should be discussed with your doctor. Many misconceptions like this exist around incontinence, and this is why we try to emphasize the importance of talking about it. No woman should suffer in silence. There are many effective treatment options out there and the earlier you are treated, the quicker you can return to a normal life.” He adds, “Always talk to your doctor if you suddenly leak urine, experience any additional urinary symptoms or you need to frequently use the bathroom.”
The good news is that there are many treatments available to successfully treat urinary incontinence. In a spectrum of options, your doctor will recommend you the best viable option for your needs. Pelvic floor training to life-style changes may help initially. Depending on the type of incontinence and the severity surgical and non-surgical options are also available with high success rates. Drug therapies, nerve stimulations may be preferred in overactive bladder patients. Those unresponsive to these treatments can be helped by bladder botulinum toxin (Botox®) injections. In stress incontinence patients a simple 20-minute procedure has been proven to resolve the issue immediately.
Dr. Haluk adds, “Our understanding of the bladder and incontinence has evolved a lot in recent years and a number of minimally invasive procedures are available which can dramatically improve symptoms.
The latest innovative procedure, called Sacral Neuromodulation (SNM) can reduce or even eliminate symptoms in many people.” He adds, “SNM can offer substantial improvements or even end incontinence. A small device is inserted near the sacral nerve which improves the way that signals are sent between the brain and the muscles that control the urge to go to the bathroom.”
Urinary incontinence may be common, but it isn’t normal. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it. The sooner you talk to your doctor, the sooner you can get the right treatment and get back to living life without worry.