Supporting Your Patients Living with Incontinence
by the WoundSource Editors
As many as one-quarter to one-third of adults are living with incontinence. Risk factors include: age, obesity, childbirth, and prostate enlargement. Not being able to control leaking urine is embarrassing and can even cause people to limit daily activities and prevent them from enjoying life. Here are some ways medical professionals can support patients living with incontinence.
Start a Conversation About Living with Incontinence
Many people are too embarrassed to talk about this problem, even with their doctor or nurse. That means the first step is to help them admit to living with incontinence and open up a dialogue so that they can ask questions and get the information they need. Starting the conversation can be easily done during a regular medical exam by asking:
- Have you ever had problems in not making it to the bathroom on time?
- Many women who have given birth have problems with leaking urine. Has that ever happened to you?
- Some men with an enlarged prostate have problems with leaking urine. Do you have that symptom?
Provide Information About Living with Incontinence
Letting patients know that they have a common problem can help them be less embarrassed and more willing to explain their symptoms. Along with giving patients statistics about the number of people living with incontinence, it helps to explain risk factors, such as:
- Age and decreasing vigor of muscles in the pelvic area
- Pregnancy and the number of children a woman has delivered
- Drop in estrogen in postmenopausal women
- Prostate enlargement or other prostate conditions
- High blood pressure
Part of the information provided can help patients understand factors they could control to improve the problem--such as stopping smoking or losing weight-- along with those they can't, such as their age.
Provide Education About Types of Incontinence
It also helps to explain the different types of incontinence, in order to help treat their symptoms. The four types of incontinence are:
- Stress incontinence: actions like laughing, sneezing, coughing or lifting causes leaking.
- Urge incontinence: sudden, unexpected urges to urinate that are hard to predict or control.
- Overflow incontinence: due to either poor bladder contraction or blockage of the urethra.
- Functional incontinence: due to medications or health problems making it difficult to get to the bathroom in time.
Learning about the types of incontinence can help patients better explain their problem so that solutions for living with incontinence can be tailored to their situation.
Provide Practical Tips for Living with Incontinence
Many simple ideas can provide a lot of relief to patients living with incontinence. Here are 12 of the most effective lifestyle tips:
- Keep a "bladder diary" for a week to try to pinpoint times of the day and situations that cause problems with incontinence in order to see what could be changed to reduce the problem.
- Go to the restroom regularly and don't wait until you feel very full.
- Take time when you are on the toilet to void completely. After you finish urinating, relax a few moments and then try to urinate again to fully empty the bladder.
- Be aware of potential triggers like spicy food, citrus fruits, and alcoholic drinks and avoid these if they seem to cause worse symptoms.
- Use urinary incontinence products like pads or disposable underwear when going out, especially if bathroom facilities might be hard to find.
- Keep track of where public restrooms are in places you frequent, such as the mall, a grocery store or the movie theater.
- Reduce liquid intake to 7-8 glasses a day, and avoid caffeine and carbonated drinks which can irritate the bladder.
- Do pelvic floor exercises to strengthen muscles that help with urine control.
- Change underwear regularly when wet, and use barrier skin products to reduce skin irritation
- Tell close friends and family about the problem so that they can help.
- Women might try using a large tampon to help with urinary control while doing vigorous exercising since it can help press the urethra closed, but this is not recommended for other situations.
- Stopping smoking and losing weight can also help with living with incontinence.
Provide Medical Help for Living with Incontinence
Self-help is usually the most effective treatment for living with incontinence, but some patients may also need other assistance. Here are some of the things that can be considered:
- Medications which reduce the need to urinate
- Behavioral training that reduces urination
- Pelvic floor physiotherapy
- Vaginal devices for women which provide support for the pelvic structure and urethra muscles
- Penile compression clamps for men
Provide Encouragement and Compassion
Living with incontinence is a common medical problem that medical professionals can make less of a burden by providing compassionate support, practical advice, and a listening ear.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of IncontinenceSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.