Let’s talk about incontinence...

Women in the Bradford district are being encouraged to seek help for continence problems, instead of feeling too embarrassed to talk to their GP about ‘taboo’ issues.

Continence problems, of which bladder weakness is the most common, affect many women but very few actually see their GP or talk to anyone about this as they think it’s ‘just one of those things’ that are a natural part of getting older. 

Image: the continence team at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust 

Now the local NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) want women to know that there is a range of help available for this common problem which, without treatment, can seriously affect their enjoyment and quality of life. 

Dr Anne Connolly, the CCGs’ clinical lead for women’s health, said: “The first and most important point to remember is that everyone with a bladder problem can be helped and many can be completely cured. It’s never too late to get help with your bladder problems. As we are all living longer this is going to be an even more common problem, so it’s important to get help as early as possible.

“We need to make sure embarrassment is never a barrier to better health. Women, of whatever age, shouldn’t just tolerate this problem: we want them to come forward and get the help they need. The earlier women discuss incontinence with their doctor, the better.”

The CCGs have a strong focus on improving women’s health, and many of their local initiatives – including re-launching the continence pathway, with a multi-disciplinary team working across the area to provide women with better care - mirror the chief medical officer’s national recommendations. 

In her latest annual report, Health of the 51% women, chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies makes recommendations on a wide range of health issues, especially obesity, ovarian cancer and ‘taboo problems’ such as incontinence and the menopause.

Problems ‘below the waist’ are not generally seen as attractive topics for public discussion, and women are often reluctant to seek help for common disabling conditions.

Incontinence is the second biggest cause, after dementia, of elderly women being admitted to care homes. But the problem doesn’t just affect older women: it can happen to younger women who are obese or have had a baby – and the effects can be psychological as well as physical.

The good news is that 70% of women with continence problems can be treated without needing medical intervention. Nurse advice, self-help tips for diet and exercise, and physiotherapy can often result in a dramatic improvement in the problem and a woman’s wellbeing.

For those women who do need further treatment, various surgical procedures are available at hospitals in the district and waiting times are short.

Patients should always talk to their GP to see which treatments and procedures are suitable for their condition, and referrals, including for bowel problems, can be made if appropriate. GPs will first need to rule out any conditions causing similar symptoms, such as diabetes and urine infections.

Urinary and bowel incontinence affects more than five million women in the UK and, along with prolapse, costs the NHS more than £200m a year in treatment and support.