Adult Incontinence & Leakage Myths

When it comes to our bodies and how to keep them going strong, there's no shortage of popular wisdom: Eating fish will make you smarter. Don't go swimming within an hour of eating. Putting butter on a burn will help it heal. While pearls of conventional wisdom such as these may actually be backed by fact, many are not.

Bladder leakage is another topic that is surrounded by conventional wisdom and beliefs passed from generation to generation. As with other popular notions, the beliefs about bladder leakage aren't always based in fact. Here are some of the most common myths surrounding bladder leakage:

  • Bladder leakage is a normal part of aging.
  • Surgery is the only treatment.
  • Leakage is the price of childbirth.
  • I just have to live with it.
  • My check-up isn't the time to discuss bladder leakage.
  • Kegel exercises won't work for someone like me.
  • It's easier just to use a sanitary napkin instead of getting help.

Jennifer Johnson Gabelsberg, DPT, MSc, MTC, owner of Women's Advantage, Inc. in Torrance, California, is a women's health physical therapist who has specialized in the treatment of bladder leakage and pelvic pain since 1994. She has theories on why there are so many myths, including age-related myths, about bladder leakage: "I think there is a lack of communication between patients and their physicians," she says, "and people just assume that once they've had children and they've gotten a little older, leaking is just something that they have to deal with." She adds, "Numerous studies show that eight out of ten women mistakenly believe that bladder leakage is normal. Women also wait an average of nine to eleven years before telling a healthcare provider about it."

When women finally do tell their doctors, many of them run into another problem: those healthcare providers often have a limited awareness of the full range of treatment options available to their patients. Gabelsberg says that a lot of physicians tell women they need surgery without really understanding the other non-surgical options available. Women who opt against surgery are left with the mistaken belief that bladder leakage is something they're just going to have to endure.

Another obstacle that keeps women from finding help for bladder leakage is lack of facts. Fortunately, greater access to information and a more open discussion of bladder leakage in society is beginning to change that. While previous generations of women have seen their mothers and grandmothers simply live with bladder leakage, today's women are beginning to break that cycle. Armed with the facts about the newest treatments, they are beginning to seek help. Gabelsberg claims that more and more women are coming to her looking for real solutions for their bladder leakage.

The search for real solutions begins with dispelling the age-related myths and other mistaken beliefs about bladder leakage. Women must separate fact from fiction, and Gabelsberg says that the way to do that is for them to educate themselves on the subject. Online resources, she says, are a good place to start, though she also believes there isn't enough discussion online about the different types of treatments. "There is a lot of information about medication and surgery," she notes, "but the more alternative treatments like physical therapy aren't described online quite as well." For this reason, she also encourages women to talk to their doctor or another health care provider who is knowledgeable about the complete range of treatment options available.

Among the non-surgical treatments available are pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises), biofeedback, yoga, botanical and clinical nutrients, homeopathic remedies, and acupuncture. Your doctor may design a treatment plan using one or more of these methods, or they may refer you to someone else, such as a naturopathic physician, physical therapist, or acupuncturist, to provide certain treatments. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit the website for the American Physical Therapy Association at www.apta.org, click on the "Find a PT" button,and enter your ZIP code and the type of specialist you'd like to find. In addition,Gabelsberg can be contacted through the website www.womens-advantage.com.

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