|In this issue of HEALTHbeat:
• Taming incontinence
• Improve your symptoms
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|March 10, 2009|
Most people take bladder and bowel control for granted — until something goes wrong. Then, you may find yourself worrying about getting to a bathroom on time, avoiding certain situations for fear of leakage, or relying on absorbent pads for protection. If so, you are not alone.
An estimated 25 million adults have incontinence, the unintended loss of urine or feces that is significant enough to make it difficult for them to maintain good hygiene and carry on ordinary social and work lives. What’s the cause? For women, it’s a rarely discussed but common result of childbirth. For men, it’s most often the result of treatment for prostate problems.
Sometimes incontinence is minor, and all you need is an occasional absorbent pad to keep enjoying your normal activities. But when you begin organizing your life around easy access to a bathroom or start giving up the activities that are important to you — your daily walk, travel, work opportunities, or sex — because you can’t control leakage, it may be time to take action.
Besides disrupting daily activities and nighttime sleep, incontinence can also chip away at your health. If you have stopped exercising, for example, you are giving up one of the most effective strategies for maintaining health. Getting up several times a night can lead to sleep deprivation. And incontinence that causes withdrawal from social interactions can contribute to depression.
Older women who frequently must rush to the bathroom are 26% more likely to fall and 34% more likely to break a bone. Incontinence is also a leading cause of nursing home placement, and that prospect drives some people to try to hide their condition rather than seek help.
While it engenders fear and embarrassment, rest assured that incontinence is not a psychological problem or a personal failure. Incontinence is a medical symptom, and it deserves the same attention you would give to any other medical concern.
For example, easier-to-take medications are now available for urinary incontinence. Specific exercises can help strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, shoring up the muscles that control both bladder and bowel. Surgical options now include outpatient procedures that work as well as major surgery. There are even treatments for the most severe cases of fecal incontinence, including sphincter repair. One warning: manufacturers have discovered that there is money to be made in selling products for incontinence. Your best bet is to choose products or treatments recommended by your doctor.
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Copyright 2009 by Harvard University.
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