The Prevalence of Stress Urinary Incontinence in High School and College-Age Female Athletes in the Midwest: Implications for Education and Prevention

Carrie Carls, BSN, RN, CWOCN

Disclosures

Urol Nurs. 2007;27(1):21-24, 39. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Problem/Purpose: Female athletes who participate in high-impact sports represent a group who may be at higher risk for urinary incontinence (UI) and may also lack knowledge of prevention measures. The purpose of the study was to identify the prevalence of stress incontinence (SUI) in young female athletes and assess the need for preventative UI education.
Methodology: A survey of young adult female athletes in Central Illinois was conducted to identify the prevalence of SUI and to assess the need for preventative UI education.
Sample: 550 surveys were sent to female athletes (through their schools) using a modified Bristol Female Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms Questionnaire. Those surveyed were between the ages of 14 and 21, and were from five high schools and two colleges in Central Illinois.
Results: More than 25% who completed the survey had symptoms of SUI and/or urge UI while participating in high- impact sports. More than 15% of responders with incontinence reported a negative effect on their quality of life, impacting their social life or desire to continue participating in sports. Over 90% of those with SUI had never told anyone about their problem. Additionally, over 90% had never heard of pelvic muscle exercises (Kegels), yet the vast majority indicated a desire to learn measures for preventing UI.
Conclusion: The study indicated that female athletes who participate in high-impact sports are at risk for UI. There is an overwhelming lack of knowledge in young female athletes of preventative incontinence care and thus the opportunity for urologic nurses to meet the need for education in these young women.

Introduction

Research has demonstrated that young female athletes participating in high-impact sports may be at higher risk for urinary incontinence. Using a modified Bristol Female Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms Questionnaire, a group of young adult female athletes was surveyed in Central Illinois to identify the prevalence of stress incontinence and assess education needs. Results indicated that more than 25% of those completing surveys experienced incontinence and that more than 90% had never told anyone about their problem and had no knowledge of preventive measures; 16% reported incontinence negatively impacted their quality of life.

Urinary incontinence (UI) affects all ages and genders; female athletes who participate in high-impact sports are one group identified as being at a high risk for UI (Warren & Shantha, 2000). The topic of stress urinary incontinence (SUI) in female athletes is not a new one. Previous studies have shown a relationship between high-impact sports and UI. A study by Nygaard, Thompson, Svengalis, and Albright (1994) showed that 28% of 156 nulliparous college varsity athletes with a mean age of 19.9 years experienced urine loss during sports. Seventeen percent of the female athletes reported that their problem began in junior high, and 40% reported that the problem began in high school. A retrospective study of 104 female Olympians (16.7% nulliparous) (Nygaard, 1997) reported 35.8% of the athletes experienced UI during sports. Bo and Borgen (2001) found that 41% of 660 athletes studied had SUI symptoms during sports. A study published in 2002 by Thyssen, Clevin, Olesen, and Lose found that 43% of the 291 elite female athletes surveyed (91.4% nulliparous) experienced urine loss during sports. Finally, a study of female soldiers reported that 30% of those in field duty and physical training experienced UI (Criner, 2001).

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