NIH: Urinary incontinence stigma still hampers treatment

February 28, 2008

An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health found that fewer than half of those experiencing urinary or fecal incontinence report their symptoms to health care providers without prompting, impairing their quality of life and hindering development of prevention and treatment strategies.

An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health found that fewer than half of those experiencing urinary or fecal incontinence report their symptoms to health care providers without prompting, impairing their quality of life and hindering development of prevention and treatment strategies.

“More than one-fourth of Americans will experience incontinence at some point in their lives,” said panel chairman C. Seth Landefeld, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco. “We as a society need to get over our discomfort with this subject so that incontinence sufferers receive the compassion, acceptance, and care they need, and our aging population can take steps to prevent incontinence in the future.”

The panel said that health care providers are well positioned to initiate discussions with patients about incontinence, and recommended further studies to determine when and how to approach patients on the topic. Although further study will be needed to find the most effective wording for asking patients about symptoms, the panel recommended that the ideal approach will address four aspects of the patient’s experience: frequency, volume, the degree to which symptoms bother the patient, and the patient’s desire for treatment.

Provider education alone will be insufficient to improve detection, prevention, and treatment. Public policy changes, including appropriate reimbursement, regulation, and management are also needed, according to the panel.