Nearly half of women over 50 say they sometimes leak urine/Incontinence — a problem that can range from a minor nuisance to a major issue — according to a new national poll.

Of more than 1,000 women between the ages of 50 and 80 who answered the poll, 43 percent of women in their 50s and early 60s said they had had experienced urinary incontinence, as had 51 percent of those age 65 and over.

Yet two-thirds of these women hadn’t talked to a doctor about the sometimes embarrassing, little-discussed issue. And only 38 percent said they do exercises that can strengthen the muscles that can help keep urine in.

The poll shows they’re finding ways of coping on their own — from using pads or special underwear to wearing dark clothing and limiting fluid intake.

 

The new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging suggest that more physicians should routinely ask their older female patients about incontinence issues they might be experiencing. The poll of 1,027 women between the ages of 50 and 80 was conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

“Urinary incontinence is a common condition that may not be routinely screened for in primary care, yet it can impact a woman’s quality of life and health, and is usually treatable,” says Carolyn Swenson, M.D., a urogynecologist at Michigan Medicine and IHPI member who helped develop the poll questions and analyze the findings. “It’s not an inevitable part of aging and shouldn’t be over-looked.”

Swenson studies delivery of women’s health care, especially related to the pelvic floor — the structures and muscles that support the bladder and reproductive organs. She notes that there are non-surgical and surgical options for treating incontinence.

Of the women who said they’d experienced at least some urine leakage, 41 percent described it as a major problem or somewhat of a problem. One-third of those with leakage experienced an episode almost every day. Nearly half worried that it would get worse as they got older.

 

The most common triggers were coughing or sneezing — experienced by 79 percent — and trying to get to a bathroom in time, experienced by 64 percent. But 49 percent said they’d leaked when laughing, and 37 percent said it had happened when they exercised.

“The last thing that older women should be doing is avoiding exercise or not being able to enjoy other activities that make life worthwhile,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School who has special training in geriatric medicine. “We hope these findings will help spur conversations between women and their health care providers, so that activities aren’t limited.

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