Do I Have Incontinence?

Patient Expert

In his SharePost, Craig poses a very interesting question: what is incontinence, actually, and who has it? At first glance, it sounds like a very easy question, but in fact experts have been discussing this very issue all week at a National Institutes of Health State of the Science Conference for the Prevention of Urinary and Fecal Incontinence.

Interestingly, we find that whether or not someone identifies as having a problem with incontinence has a lot to do with how they are asked the question. For example, if asked, "Do you ever experience incontinence?" many people will say no, but when the same people are asked, "Do you ever wear a protective pad for the leakage of urine?" the answer often changes to yes.

There are several reasons for this difference. Many people hear the word "incontinence" and assume we're talking about complete loss of bladder control at all times. They think, that's not me. Or, people may understand that they are experiencing incontinence, but when asked in a way that stigmatizes them, they decide not to reveal the problem.

So, how do you know if you or the person you are caring for is experiencing incontinence? Well, if you're reading this Web site looking for help, it's probably a pretty good sign that what you're dealing with is incontinence - even if it never occurred to you to call it that. Basically, incontinence is the accidental leakage of your bladder and/or bowel. Incontinence, both fecal and urinary, falls somewhere on a spectrum from full leakage at all times to occasional dribbling (in the case of urinary) or staining in your undergarments (in the case of fecal). The key phrase is that you have a problem with incontinence when your leakage becomes a problem for you

So, is it incontinence? Basically you're the deciding factor. However, just like "what is incontinence" isn't as easy a question as it first appears, neither is "Is my incontinence a problem for me?"

Remember that in most cases, incontinence comes on slowly and gradually over the case of many weeks, months, or even years. Many people find themselves giving up certain activities and adjusting their way of living to accommodate their growing problem with incontinence - but it happens so slowly and over such a long period of time that it can be barely noticeable.

I always recommend that you ask yourself the question, "If I woke up completely dry tomorrow without any fear of leakage, how would my life be different?" The answer may surprise you! If you do end up finding that incontinence has affected your life more than you thought or more than you would like, then you know that it's time to look for help!