Incontinence – has there been any progress in treatment options?

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Medical innovations are popping up left, right and centre in our modern era of technology. Research is being done to cure cancer and other deadly or chronic diseases, but unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to all conditions – one of which is urinary incontinence.


What treatment options are there?

Absorbent pads and nappies designed for maximum absorption are still the main way to manage urinary incontinence. The earliest reference to this method dates back to 4thcentury Egypt. These devices remained homemade until the 20th century when Kotex started producing the first mass-produced disposable pads. In the 1980s, polymers were developed which made sanitary products more absorbent.

According to research, technology in terms of incontinence medicine has been at a standstill, as even devices such as stomata and catheters have not changed much since their invention, and remain invasive, carrying the risk of infection.

And while continence pads and nappies are more widely available than before, they are still not always very discreet and often cause embarrassment.


The truth in numbers

According to a new poll from the University of Michigan, nearly half of all women over the age of 50 live with some form of urinary incontinence, ranging from a minor inconvenience to a major issue.

More than 1 000 women between the ages of 50 and 80 answered the poll and more than 50% admitted to suffering from urinary incontinence in some form – yet two-thirds of them have never consulted a doctor as they regard the issue as “too embarrassing”.

The poll also shows that these women have found ways of managing their urinary incontinence without medical intervention – including special underwear or pads, wearing dark clothes and limiting their fluid intake.


Far-reaching effects

Urinary incontinence affects many people globally and can severely affect one’s quality of life. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, unmanaged urinary incontinence can lead to severe feelings of rejection, social isolation, dependency, loss of control, as well as issues with body image, as urinary incontinence can affect intimacy.


What is being done?

According to a study published in Nursing Research, there is a lack of knowledge about the use of incontinence products, preventing many people with urinary incontinence from reaping the full benefit of these products.

The study also highlighted that more engagement between healthcare sectors and more openness about urinary incontinence would lead to more and better research toward improving existing products.

According to a report by the University of Birmingham, the potential of regenerative medicine for the relief of urinary incontinence is of huge interest to clinical experts. However, at the time of this report most of these innovations were still in their early sages.


Speak up!

There have been some improvements in products designed to manage urinary incontinence. For example, they have become much better in terms of absorption and locking in odours than before.

Innovations might be non-existent, and regenerative medicine remain at an experimental stage, but it is still advisable to seek medical help for incontinence, as no form of urinary incontinence should ever be accepted as “normal”, especially not when it happens suddenly.

The more urinary incontinence is highlighted as a problem that affects a large number of people, the more money and time will be invested in innovative treatment options.

Incontinence might be embarrassing for you, but you should not hesitate to talk to your doctor about it. Dr Prenevin Govender, a Cape Town-based urologist and Health24’s Incontinence Expert, previously told Health24, “Incontinence is never ‘normal’ and if you experience it, you should always go to your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a urologist.”

You can help break the stigma by addressing urinary incontinence and seeking help. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your loved ones about urinary incontinence and encourage questions.
  • Seek medical help as soon as possible. Your doctor may be able to diagnose an underlying condition and give you tips on how to manage it.
  • There are many avoidable triggers that can make incontinence worse – avoid these by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum and sticking to a healthy weight.
  • Explore options such as physiotherapy for pelvic strength as this can help manage incontinence.
  • Talk to a continence nurse advisor about urinary incontinence and management.



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