The findings of a recent survey on the prevalence of urinary incontinence among women show that while a third of the patients find the lack of bladder control a definite bother, very few women reached out for medical assistance and even fewer of them knew which specialist to consult.
The questionnaire-based survey of 2,000 women in the 30-50 age group in and around Chennai by Guna Associates in Uro-gynecology and Research for Incontinence (GAURI), coinciding with World Continence Week, found a prevalence of about 40 per cent.
While 46 per cent of subjects ticked the box when asked whether they leaked while coughing, sneezing or laughing indicating that they suffered stress incontinence — the most prevalent form of the disorder — another 37 per cent complained of urge incontinence (leakage before reaching the toilet).
Significantly, while 31 per cent thought that their condition was indeed bothersome and required help and 38 per cent seemed to be aware of the availability of treatment, only 13 per cent were not averse to approaching a doctor.
The main reasons for hesitating to consult a doctor ranged from shyness (22 per cent) and the notion that incontinence was a passing problem (31 per cent) to being unsure of which specialist they needed to consult (34 per cent).
“What the study shows was that while close to 40 per cent knew that help was available, only one in four actually consulted a doctor,” said Karthik Gunasekaran, uro-gynecologist and founder-secretary of the Indian Urogynecological Society who led the survey.
The study, which administered a seven-point questionnaire, found that the most common reason for not seeing the doctor was that patients did not know which specialist to see.
Awareness was also low on the availability of incontinence diapers.
According to Dr. Gunasekaran, while there have been varying attempts at estimating prevalence of urinary incontinence in South Indian women, none have had a closer look at the degree of bother and help-seeking behaviour in these women.
The prevalence of urinary incontinence in Asia has been estimated at 12 per cent according to one study by the Asian Society of Female Urology.
Urinary incontinence is a socially distressing problem with a high degree of bother, and though it severely impacts on the quality of life in women, women typically do not discuss their problem with others. Research from the West implies that it takes women at least five years to seek help.
“The problem with suffering the disorder in silence is two-fold; the compromise on the quality of life and the infructousness of surgical option in advanced stages when the muscles are too emaciated,” said Dr. Gunasekaran.