Urinary Incontinence: The Health Problem Women Won't Talk About

Millions of American women suffer from urinary incontinence. Yet this embarrassing problem is often surprisingly easy to fix.
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A Secret Problem

Kathleen Quinlan was in her 20s when she had her first "accident." "I was doing jumping jacks in an aerobics class and I leaked a little," she says. "At the time I thought, no biggie -- I just switched to a lower-impact routine."

But little by little the urine leakage got worse. By the time Quinlan, a mother of four from Chicago, was in her 30s, she trickled urine whenever she sneezed, coughed, or horsed around with one of her kids. In her 40s the problem got bad enough that she had to stop dancing with her husband at parties and begin wearing sanitary pads every day "just in case." She once had a coughing fit and completely soaked her pants in the middle of a work seminar and had to rush home to change. Mortified, she told no one about her problem, not even her husband.

But when Quinlan, now 56, found that she was even leaking urine as she walked to the train for her daily commute, she finally made up her mind to get help.

"There's a sisterhood of silence when it comes to incontinence," says Linda Brubaker, MD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and urology at Loyola University in Chicago. "Most women feel too self-conscious about the problem to discuss it openly, even with their doctors." In fact, women with incontinence endure symptoms for an average of six and a half years before they talk to a physician, according to the National Association for Continence.

That's a long wait for what turns out to be an amazingly common and often simple-to-fix problem. Urinary incontinence affects 28 percent of women ages 30 to 39, 41 percent of those 40 to 49 and almost half of all women 50 and older, according to a University of Washington survey of more than 3,000 women. And about 80 percent of these women can get complete or significant relief.

Continued on page 2:  Why It Happens


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