Updated: Feb 14
As women approach midlife, they may have some idea about life changes that they may start to experience, including menopausal symptoms, mood swings, or bladder leakage. Talking about menopause with girlfriends is often commonplace. Joking about hot flashes and the temperature of the room is often the norm. Women will usually discuss their mood swings and even send memes to friends that make light of this issue. What no one seems to talk about is overactive bladder and incontinence.
You may not realize that if you have ever experienced bladder leakage, you are not alone! Aeroflow Urology recently polled over 1,000 women aged 40-64 and found that 72% of women (that's almost 3⁄4!!) have experienced incontinence. As a matter of fact, 65% of women experience bladder leakage at least once a month, and 25% experience it daily. So why are we not talking about it?
As prevalent as bladder leakage is in midlife, women often suffer in silence. I started experiencing bladder issues at age 28 when I was diagnosed with painful bladder syndrome, which also included overactive bladder. I know firsthand the embarrassment and stigma of dealing with bladder issues. Overactive bladder makes it difficult to attend long celebrations like graduations or weddings. Time at these events is often spent figuring out bathroom breaks as not to miss anything of importance while gone.
Overactive bladder even affects simple everyday activities like running errands or exercising. One trip to the grocery store is interrupted with at least two to three visits to the bathroom, meaning there is no such thing as a quick errand. It can even interfere with shorter excursions like dinner and a movie or a sporting event. I remember cringing every time my husband said we had to attend one of his business dinners. I knew it would mean getting up and down repeatedly from the table and politely leaving during a break in conversation with his colleagues. The stigma of bladder leakage has 52% of midlife women trying to hide their loss of bladder control, and 42% of these women have been too embarrassed to discuss this issue with their close friends and family, when chances are they’re experiencing it too. It's easy to feel all alone when you have an overactive bladder. As a pharmacist of 32 years, I know that even at the pharmacy, women can be very embarrassed to discuss their bladder leakage symptoms. The same study from Aeroflow Urology showed that over half (56%) of women aged 40-64 stated that they did not see a doctor after experiencing bladder loss. In fact, 37% of those women reported that they did not seek medical help because they did not have any education on the subject and thought it was no big deal. However, anything that affects your health is a big deal, especially if it affects your day to day living. While the stigma associated with bladder control issues tells us to be embarrassed and ashamed, it’s important for us to facilitate conversations around life with incontinence. Women should know that symptoms of bladder leakage should not be overlooked. Overactive bladder can snowball into greater health issues such as urinary tract infections and kidney failure. If left unaddressed, bladder leakage can also affect your finances over time due to interferences with work or education. If you experience bladder leakage, know that you are not alone, and please reach out to a member of your health care team to help you navigate this midlife issue.