Patient Perspective: Audra's Story

Audra's Story of Living With Bladder Leaks

It took me 8 years to talk to my doctor about my bladder leaks. Allow me to let that sink in for a moment – EIGHT YEARS!!  

Think about how much happens during a span of eight years. For me, I had 2 children, switched jobs once, and had a cross country move in the middle of it all.

You’d think that with all of those life changes I’d be able to address something as simple as bladder leaks. I had a million and one reasons why I put it off for so long:  “It will heal after I recover from childbirth.” “It’s not so bad that I can’t manage it.” “I can just wear a pad.” “I’ll just bring along an extra set of clothes with me in the car just in case.” “I’m usually near a bathroom so should be able to make it most of the time.”

On and on the excuses went. But as the years went by, I got sick of just “dealing with it.” I finally made an appointment with my doctor and felt silly when I told him how long I had been suffering (needlessly).  He first set me up with a Physical Therapist to work on strengthening my pelvic floor, and also prescribed me a medication to take. The PT helped me a lot and after nearly 6 months of regular therapy, I was able to quit the medication all together. Now I just go for regular check ups, but keep up the exercises at home on my own.

I feel stronger and leak free, but most of all, I feel in control of my own life again. I’ll never let something like the fear of embarrassment prevent me from getting the medical attention I need again. 

Audra S., Missoula, MT

When To Seek Help For Bladder Leaks

When To Seek Help For Bladder Leaks

When To Seek Help For Bladder Leaks

It’s the 3rd week of Bladder Health Awareness Month and this week is all about when and how to seek help.  Talking to someone about incontinence can be hard, (most people wait 6.5 years before seeing a doctor!) but it is often a necessary step in order to get the treatment you need. And remember that what you share with your doctor is likely something he or she has heard many times before. Incontinence is a very common (but not normal!) condition, and once you take the first step in opening up about it, it won’t seem as big of a deal as it may now.

So, how do you know it’s time to talk to someone? Hopefully, you’ve tried some of the tips we’ve discussed in the past (see our post last week for a Step By Step Guide on things you can try). Often, making small changes can make a big difference and can reduce or even eliminate symptoms of incontinence. If, after taking these steps you’re still having problems, it’s probably time to seek professional help. This is nothing to be ashamed of – different treatments work for different people. And the steps you’ve taken so far will help your doctor in determining a solution that might work better for you. So take notes during your self-treatment process and note what does and doesn’t make a difference. Then take them to your doctor and start the discussion.

Opening up about incontinence may not be limited just to your doctor – your significant other, close friend or family may also be someone you’d like to share with. Don’t live with this condition in silence – many people who open up to loved ones learn that they are not alone – many people have this problem and it helps to be able to talk about it with others who understand. Not only that, having someone in your corner as you make the changes needed overcome and treat the condition can be invaluable. And, if you’re too nervous to talk to someone you know, there is always the NAFC Message Boards, which provide a safe place for you to share your concerns and thoughts with others like you.

So make that appointment, and follow along with us this week as we talk about how to talk with your doctor, and others, about incontinence!

Need an extra push to make a doctor's appointment? Sign up for our 8-Week Challenge

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Have you missed the past couple of weeks?  Here are some of the things we’ve been covering this month to help you live a #LifeWithoutLeaks!

Week 1:  Accepting That You Have Incontinence

Types of Incontinence – The Break Down

Take The NAFC 8-Week Challenge

Men: Let’s Talk About Bladder Leakage

Why Incontinence Is A Condition We Need To Worry About

Week 2: What You Can Do To Manage Bladder Leaks Before You See Your Doctor

Bladder Irritants And Your Diet

Finding An Absorbent Product That Works

Top 3 Things To Look For In An Absorbent Product

Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Fight Incontinence

Incorporating Pelvic Floor Exercises Into Your General Workout Routine

The Doctor Guide: A Breakdown Of Different Specialties And When You Should See Them

The Doctor Guide: A Breakdown Of different SPecialties And When You SHould See Them.

The Doctor Guide: A Breakdown Of different SPecialties And When You SHould See Them.

Have you been thinking about talking to a doctor about your bladder leakage problems, but just can’t muster the courage, or figure out exactly who you should talk to about it? You’re not alone. A recent poll from NAFC asked people who suffer from incontinence how long it took them to talk to their doctor.  Almost half of them waited at least a year before bringing it up (some as many as 6 + years!) and nearly 30% said they still hadn’t had the discussion.  We get it – incontinence can be an embarrassing subject to talk about – even with your doctor.  But the sooner you have the discussion, the sooner you can receive treatment. And besides, we’re pretty sure your doctor has probably had this discussion with many patients, many times before.

You may be wondering what type of doctor you should see.  That really depends.  Many primary care doctors treat incontinence and can be a good starting point, but for advanced treatment (especially if you are considering something like surgery), a urologist may be the better bet.  Here is a breakdown of some common specialties that treat incontinence.  Read through these and think about your own situation and treatment needs to determine the best option for you.

Family Medicine/Primary Care Physician.  

This type of doctor is a general practitioner and provides broad care to many acute, chronic and preventative medical conditions.  The Family Medicine doctor will help you identify the type of incontinence you have and talk with you about your options.  The family medicine doctor may prescribe medication or other treatment, or, for more advanced cases, refer you to a specialist focused in urology. 

Internist. 

Similar to Family Medicine doctors, Internists provide general care, but usually only to adults.  Internists can serve as a primary care physician, and provide comprehensive, long-term care for both common and complex diseases. 

Urologist. 

These doctors specialize in managing problems with the male and female urinary tract, and male reproductive organs.  Most urologists are surgeons, and many may specialize further in a sub-specialty, such as pediatrics, female urology or gynecology.

Urogynecologist.

An OB-GYN who has advanced training in pelvic floor dysfunction in women. Women with stress urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse are often referred to a urogynecologist for treatment.

Physical Therapist.

Physical Therapists, or “PTs” that focus on women’s health often treat pelvic floor disorders, which cover a wide range of problems such as incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, or joint pain.  The focus of physical therapy is to strengthen and relax the muscles of the pelvic floor and to design physical activity programs that help the patient in these areas.

OBGYN. 

A doctor specialized in obstetrics and gynecology is a doctor who manages the reproductive health of women, family planning, pregnancy, and postnatal health. 

Gynecologist.  

A Gynecologist specializes in the reproductive health of women.  Some gynecologists have special training in diagnosing and treating urinary incontinence and prolapse (often urogynecologists).

Geriatrician. 

A geriatrician is a doctor that specializes in the care of older adults. They typically train as a family practitioner or internal medicine doctor, and then spend at least one extra year completing a geriatrics fellowship. Diseases, medications and illnesses can sometimes affect older people differently than younger patients, and a geriatrician is specially trained to handle these cases. Not everyone needs to see one though – if you have established a relationship with a family practitioner or internal medicine doctor and are happy with your care, feel free to continue! But, if as an older adult, you are suffering from a number of diseases or impairments (physical or cognitive) you may want to consult with a geriatrician who has received specialized training in treating patients over the age of 65.

Gastroenterologist. 

A gastroenterologist is a doctor that has received special training in managing diseases related to the gastrointestinal tract and liver. They study how materials move through the stomach, how they digest and absorb into the body, and then how they are removed as waste from the system. Gastroenterologists typically treat colon cancer, GERD (heartburn), hemorrhoids, bloody stool, ulcers, gallbladder issues, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and pancreatitis. You will typically be referred to a Gastroenterologist by your FP or internist if you experience any abnormalities related to your stools, or digestion, including blood in your stool, difficulty swallowing or abdominal pain. Additionally, many men and women over 50 receive screening for colon cancer from a gastroenterologist.

Dietitian. 

A dietitian is a health care professional that treats nutritional problems in patients. They typically work with both sick and healthy people to formulate food and nutrition plans for patients based on their conditions, and help them incorporate them into their lifestyle. Dietitians may be helpful to patients looking to modify their food intake to avoid bladder irritants.

Once you’ve determined the best doctor to see for your incontinence, it’s time to make an appointment!  Use the NAFC Specialist Locator to find a doctor near you and call them today.  You’ll be that much closer to managing and treating your symptoms.

Three Generations Of Incontinence

Talk about incontinence with your family.

Sometimes it's hard to open up with others about what's happening with our health. But doing so can help you gain valuable insights into your background and may help you take preventative action to avoid some conditions. Read this story about the importance of sharing your health history and the impact it can make on the entire family.

Growing up in a very conservative family in the 20’s, my Grandmother learned at an early age how to “act properly”. She was a lady, for sure, always looking immaculate, with great manners and a strong sense of pride. She was a private person – never sharing too much and kept any troubles or personal concerns to herself. She passed these traits along to my own mother and then, by default, on to me.  What none of us knew, until recently, is that while acting ladylike is well and good in many cases, keeping things inside can sometimes cause rippling effects throughout generations, especially as it relates to health concerns.

You see, we all suffer from bladder leakage. My Grandmother gave birth to three children in her younger years, and as she inched toward middle age, she began experiencing the symptoms of stress urinary incontinence, causing her to leak urine when extra “stress” (coughing, laughing, sneezing) is placed on the bladder.

For her, this was simply something that she had to live with. She would never dream of talking to anyone about it, especially her doctor. It just became a part of who she was and she managed as well as she could on her own, in silence.

My mother suffered a similar fate, dealing with her bladder leakage in much the same way as my Grandmother did for all those years. It wasn’t until I started experiencing symptoms a few years after the birth of my second child that I ever knew it was something that had plagued generations of my family. 

I was on the phone with my mom when, after a particularly intense sneezing fit, had to excuse myself to use the restroom. When I got back to the phone, my mother very delicately asked me if everything was ok. And though I had never spoken with her candidly about this before, I suddenly felt a need to know if she had also experienced the problem. I asked her very calmly if she had ever had “issues” holding her bladder, and suddenly it was if the flood gates had opened – she shared her struggles over the years, and also her suspicion that her own mother had experienced the same things. We decided to ask my Grandmother at our next monthly visit and finally, the three of us sat down and spoke frankly about this very common problem.

What I learned shocked me, but also sounded vaguely familiar. My Grandmother had never spoken to anyone about her issue – not even once. She purchased incontinence supplies as discreetly as she could and never even told my Grandfather that she was experiencing problems (although I can’t imagine that he didn’t know).  My mother, at least, did tell her doctor, but after a trying, and failing, on one medication, decided to just try to manage it herself and live with the issue. 

I had only just been experiencing light leaks for the past few months, but after hearing their stories and learning about the years of living with the condition, I was determined to do something. That very day I made an appointment with my doctor to learn my options. I read everything I could find about incontinence and  before my appointment and was armed with a list of questions for my doctor.

At my appointment we talked about my options, and I started out by making several lifestyle changes – including taking a hard look at my diet, and practicing several core and pelvic floor exercises to gain some of the strength back that I lost after having kids.

It’s been about a year since my conversation with my Mom and Grandmother, and I’m so glad that I finally opened up to them and learned their struggle. Too many keep conditions such as incontinence to themselves, instead of speaking up about it – especially to those they love. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one, and in fact, that this problem likely had at least a little bit to do with genetics helped me immensely.

During my research into my own problem, I came across a study that showed incontinence that occurs before you reach middle age is likely determined by your genes. I only wish that I would have had the conversation with my family earlier.

May is Women’s Health Month. And Mother’s Day just happens to be coming up as well. Use this time with your family wisely – make it a point to ask them about their health history. You’ll be able to better arm yourself with information on your background and how to treat your own condition simply by speaking up and starting the conversation. And who knows – you may find that you have someone else who knows exactly what you’re going through who is right under your nose.

Four Tips On How To Date When You Have Incontinence

Four Tips On How To Date When You Have Incontinence

Having incontinence can put a damper on a lot of activities for many.  Some people are so scared that they will have an accident they won’t leave their home, let alone go out with friends or on dates.  If this sounds like you, you should know that there are things you can do to treat your incontinence, and tricks you can use to survive the dating world. 

Here are our top four tips on dating when you have incontinence.

1. Know Your Options. 

Being educated about what treatment options are available to you is half the battle.  Make an appointment with a doctor to talk about your symptoms and find a solution that’s right for you.  Don’t be scared of this step – your doctor can educate you on many types of treatments, ranging from very conservative, non-invasive approaches to more advanced options such as surgery. Once you start treating your incontinence, you’ll gain more confidence in your ability to go out without having to worry about leaks.

2. Change up your habits. 

Avoid indulging in bladder irritating foods when out and about to lessen the risk it will cause an accident.  Things like alcohol and caffeinated items are high on this list. Keeping a bladder diary for a couple of weeks can help you identify your triggers so that you know what you need to avoid in social situations.

3. Plan ahead. 

Know where the closest restrooms are so that if you need to head there in a hurry you won’t lose time searching around.  It can also be helpful to have an extra change of clothes on hand just in case an accident does happen.  Keep a spare in your bag or car for emergencies.

4. Be open with those you love. 

Thinking about being intimate when you have incontinence can be nerve-wracking, but opening up to your partner can help ease the tension and take a weight off your shoulders.  Talk to them before you’re in a situation to have sex so they know what to expect.  If they get hung up on it, chances are they aren’t worth your time anyway.  However, you’ll likely find that being open and honest with them will help you both relax a bit and will create an even more trusting and caring relationship.

Don’t let incontinence limit your social life.  Learning how to treat and manage it, and knowing your personal triggers, will give you the confidence to get out there and start living a more connected – and full – life.  

How To Talk About Incontinence With Your Loved One

How To Talk About Incontinence With Your Loved One

Talking about incontinence is never easy.  Whether you are the one experiencing it, or someone close to you has been exhibiting symptoms, it is a conversation that most dread.  However, sharing this struggle with a loved one is perhaps one of the best things you can do in your path to recovery.  With a little advanced planning, a deep breath, and some honesty you’ll be able to get past this and move on to the next (and more productive) phase of this struggle – treatment.

How To Talk About Incontinence With A Loved One

When you’re the one struggling with incontinence.

Believe it or not, you may actually be on the easier end of this conversation. As embarrassing as it may feel to open up to someone about this, if you are ready to do so, you have likely accepted that this has become a problem and are ready to receive support. And who better to provide that support than a trusted friend or loved one? 

Opening up to someone may not only provide you with the physical help you need, but also lift an emotional weight off your shoulders. You don’t have to suffer through this alone.

When your loved one has incontinence.

If you’ve been noticing that a loved one seems to be having problems with incontinence, it may be time to talk with them about it to see how open they are to treatment. This can sometimes be difficult – it is very likely that the person knows they have a problem, but may be too embarrassed to talk to anyone or do anything about it. 

Depending on your relationship, it can also be hard for your loved one to admit. For instance, a father who is cared for by his son or daughter may feel too proud to discuss this with his kids. Start the conversation slowly by asking them about their general health, then move on to some of the signs of incontinence that you’ve noticed.

Be prepared – they may get defensive and try to hide the problem. If that happens, try again. Be patient with them and try to be as accepting and understanding as possible. In time, they will likely open up to you once they see that your intentions are good and you are there to support them.

Our last tip?  Get some advice from those who have been there and understand.  As life changing as it may be, you are not the only one in the world who has ever struggled with this condition.  Whether you are looking to reach out to others who are experiencing it, or others who care for an incontinent loved one, there are many people out there who are discussing their problems on message boards and online forums.  Check out the NAFC message boards to get some tips on how others have touched on this delicate subject.

ASK THE EXPERT: HOW DO I TALK TO MY LOVED ONE ABOUT INCONTINENCE?

How Do I Talk To My Loved One About Incontinence

Question: I’ve had a hard time discussing my father’s incontinence with him - he is so embarrassed by it and never wants to address it. How can I bring the subject up without making him uncomfortable?

Answer:  Caring for a parent with incontinence can be very hard.  After all, you’ve both played opposite roles for most of your life, with your parent providing most of the care for you. When a parent becomes dependent on their child, and especially when they are experiencing something like incontinence, it can make them feel ashamed and embarrassed. They may try to hard to hide their incontinence, or brush off mention of it and try to avoid the subject all together.

Start slowly. Discuss their health and condition and then talk to them about some of the incontinence symptoms you’ve witnessed.  Be patient - they may have some reservations in discussing their problem with you at first. But give them some time - once they feel comfortable, they’ll open up to you and you’ll be able to work on a management plan together.