Which factors have increased attention to urinary incontinence?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Urinary incontinence in women is not a recent medical and social phenomenon, but the relative importance attributed to urinary incontinence as a medical problem is increasing. Several factors responsible for the increased attention to incontinence can be cited.

First, women are more willing to talk openly about this disorder. Women are realizing that, in most cases, urinary incontinence is a treatable condition. Consequently, less embarrassment and fewer social stigmas are associated with the diagnosis.

Second, as the population ages, incontinence becomes a more frequent concern. Urinary incontinence often is the chief reason for institutionalization of elderly people.

Third, interest in urinary incontinence disorders within the medical community is surging. This increased interest is arising among basic scientists, clinical researchers, and clinicians. The subspecialties of urogynecology and female urology are emerging, and structured fellowships are in the credentialing process. A Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery fellowship is now accredited as a subspecialty by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) and the American Board of Urology (ABU).

As a direct result of this increased interest, the public is becoming more aware of the problem and more active and educated about incontinence. Patient advocacy groups provide patients access to information, incontinence products, and physicians who have interest or special expertise in these disorders. In the last decade, funding opportunities for incontinence research have increased vastly. Subspecialty professional organizations and journals are now active.

Important contributions to the understanding of the structure and functioning of the lower urinary tract include an improved understanding of the anatomy and dynamic functioning of the pelvic floor and its contribution to continence. In addition, much study has been conducted to bolster the understanding of the neurophysiology of the bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor. Finally, interest in the diagnosis and treatment of incontinence is ongoing.

An estimated 50-70% of women with urinary incontinence fail to seek medical evaluation and treatment because of social stigma. Only 5% of individuals who are incontinent and 2% of nursing home residents who are incontinent receive appropriate medical evaluation and treatment. Patients who are incontinent often cope with this condition for 6-9 years before seeking medical therapy.

In a 1997 survey of primary care physicians, about 40% reported that they sometimes, rarely, or never ask patients about incontinence. More than 40% of internists and family practitioners routinely recommended absorbent pads to their patients as a solution to incontinence disorders. [11] Continued education of the public and medical professionals is needed to improve the care rendered to individuals with urinary incontinence.

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