Study: Female Incontinence Is Common

Incontinence Not an Inevitable Part of Aging, Researchers Report

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 29, 2008 -- Women often don't tell their doctors about incontinence, overactive bladder, and pelvic organ prolapse, but those problems are common, a new study shows.

The study urges women not to accept those problems as a normal part of aging.

"Rather, they should focus on modifiable risk factors such as weight loss and maintenance, and seek treatment for all conditions when they occur," the researchers write in the March edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The study included 4,103 women aged 25 to 84 (average age: 56) who got their health care through Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

The women completed surveys about the following pelvic floor disorders:

  • Stress urinary incontinence: urine leakage when there is an increase in abdominal pressure, such as while exercising, laughing, sneezing, or coughing.
  • Overactive bladder: an urgent need to urinate.
  • Pelvic organ prolapse: the descent or drooping of the bladder, uterus, vagina, small bowel, or rectum.
  • Anal incontinence: defined in the study as leaking gas, as well as solid or liquid stool.

The survey's results:

  • 15% reported stress urinary incontinence
  • 13% reported overactive bladder
  •  6% reported pelvic organ prolapse
  • 25% reported anal incontinence

Many women had more than one pelvic floor disorder.

"Roughly 80% of women with stress urinary incontinence or overactive bladder, 69% with pelvic organ prolapse, and 48% with anal incontinence reported at least one other [pelvic floor] disorder," write the researchers, who included Jean Lawrence, ScD, MPH, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Pelvic floor disorders were more common among older women. But age wasn't as important as other factors, such as the number of babies the women had had by vaginal birth, menopause, hysterectomy, smoking, and obesity.

It's not clear if the results apply to all women. Those with pelvic floor disorders may have been more likely than women without those problems to complete the survey.

SOURCES: Lawrence, J. Obstetrics & Gynecology, March 2008; vol 111. WebMD Medical Reference: "Types of Urinary Incontinence." WebMD Medical Reference: "Pelvic Organ Prolapse."

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