Womens Health

How Common is Urinary Incontinence?

By Frederick R. Jelovsek, M.D.,

How common is urinary leakage among women? Sometimes it seems to be a common problem. Many women themselves or their friends describe loss of urine with coughing or sneezing on occasion, but it's usually only a problem with a bad cold or severe allergies. To see if it needs treating, a doctor will ask if the urinary leakage is a socially embarrassing problem (wetting clothes) or a hygiene problem (odor or skin irritation from the constant moistness.

A Recent Study

A recent Norwegian study has looked at how prevalent a problem this is. Holtedahl K, Hunskaar S: Prevalence, 1-year incidence and factors associated with urinary incontinence: a population based study of women 50-74 years of age in primary care. Maturitas 1998 Jan 12;28(3):205-211.

Of the 489 women in the study, some urine leakage was reported by 47% and regularly by 31%. For 19%, leakage was confirmed on physical exam and claimed to be a social or hygienic problem. Incontinence was associated with heavier body weight, with poor ability to contract pelvic floor muscles and with previous gynecological operations excluding hysterectomy. Three women (0.6%) developed regular incontinence during the year of investigation. There was no convincing case of spontaneous remission.

From the study, the authors conclude that in women aged 50-74 years, about one in five will need treatment of some sort. Urinary incontinence is a chronic condition with little tendency to go away without treatment.

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