As a GP, woman, mother, and ambassador for Always Discreet for sensitive bladder, the topic of adult incontinence is a cause that is very close to my heart. It didn't feature very highly in my medical school training, but once I arrived in general practice I soon got experience of the huge impact it has on the lives of millions of women across the UK. So many of the women I see come to me as a last resort, having suffered in silence for years. Their lives are blighted or sometimes even ruled by their bladders, but they have no idea that effective treatment is within their grasp. It all starts with a conversation, which makes me even more committed to raising awareness in the hope that it will empower women to open the discussion.
Though adult incontinence is a condition that has come to be associated with age, it isn't one that discriminates; in fact, research by Always Discreet has found that it's something that will affect 50% of women at some point in their lives. As I've seen first-hand, living with this condition has a huge impact on the lives of sufferers, but what you might not appreciate from afar is how much of someone's life the symptoms can impact. A sensitive bladder can affect everything from the clothes you feel comfortable wearing, what and how much you drink, to how confident you feel travelling and exercising.
Unsurprising are the knock-on emotional effects of this, and shockingly 51% of women with bladder sensitivity say they feel depressed as a result of their condition. Women in the UK are exhausted by coping with AI, 61% of women can't sleep, and 94% claim to be worn out. That's a lot of women.
So, how can we enable these women? How can we reassure them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel? I think we need to tell them - to tell you - that you're not alone. One of the biggest problems is that women aren't seeking help - the walls of shame and embarrassment that surround the symptoms stop women from speaking to their friends, their partners, and even their GPs. As a result a shocking 67% of women aren't using a product designed for sensitive bladder, and 49% make compromises in their daily lives to help accommodate their symptoms. We need to start talking about incontinence.
If you are one of these women, I want to help you initiate this conversation with a health professional. This summer, Always Discreet have released an industry first - a very special documentary that follows five charming, honest women on their journey through living life with incontinence. They have worked with the incredible film maker Flora Berkeley, to shine a light on what is the last taboo in female health. I am really excited and privileged to have been a part of this journey, as I know how important the issue is for so many women - nearly half of the women who suffer from incontinence (45%) admit that having a sensitive bladder affects their happiness. Always Discreet wanted to give these women a voice and Jane, Claudia, Alyth, Coral and Sandra were among many who wanted to share their stories and try to break the silence about what it means to be a woman who doesn't let her incontinence define her.
You can watch the documentary here:
Despite Flora Berkeley giving the topic the attention it deserves, hundreds of women still feel uncomfortable about sharing their experiences of living with incontinence. Here are some of my top tips for how to start the conversation around adult incontinence:
Be the first to bring it up - once you start talking about it, you'll be surprised how many others have also experienced a sensitive bladder. They'll probably find it just as much of a relief as you to be able to admit it
Start the conversation - introduce the fact that they may have noticed behaviour changes or that you avoid certain situations
Explain the symptoms - so people understand how it affects your life and the decisions you make e.g. avoiding long car journeys
Dispel the myths - let people know it's a common problem that affects millions of women of all ages. Make them aware of the specialist products now out there that are really discreet and make you feel comfortable and fresh all day. And don't let them believe that pelvic floor exercises won't help - most women will benefit if they do them often and properly and persevere long enough
Keep talking, don't be ashamed, have a giggle, answer questions, be confident - then you'll find you've got friends and family you can turn to if you need support
Visit a GP - it is important to seek professional and medical advice on how to ease your symptoms. There really is help available - you just have to ask
Go to the Always Discreet website for more information - www.alwaysdiscreet.co.uk