A study has revealed a significant rate of urinary problems among young women unrelated to pregnancy or childbirth. By Linda Belardi.
Research has found one in eight Australian females under 30 suffer from urinary incontinence, in what is a first look at the prevalence of the condition among young women.
The large study of 1000 females identified a silent group of sufferers - healthy women who were physically active and have never been pregnant - but who experienced the symptoms of mild to severe urinary incontinence.
In the Monash University study, 6 per cent of women experienced stress incontinence triggered by laughing or coughing and 4.5 per cent had urge incontinence. A further 2 per cent experienced both types of bladder control problems.
Obesity and childbearing have traditionally been understood as common risk factors for the condition.
Study supervisor, Associate Professor Robin Bell, said the research has captured the incidence of this condition that has previously slipped under the radar of health professionals.
"It's really capturing a condition which we suspect people aren't talking about with their doctors," she said.
"Urinary incontinence is something that women are very reluctant to raise with their doctors and we also think that it is something that doctors are probably reluctant to raise with women as well," Bell told Nursing Review.
Bell described the condition as an "unspoken issue" despite a significant proportion of young women aged between 16 and 30 experiencing symptoms.
The extent to which incontinence has affected young women has been poorly understood in the past.
"We tend to think about urinary incontinence as something that emerges in women during the reproductive years, but this research examined the bit of the jigsaw that has really been missing from our understanding - the experience of younger women who have never been pregnant."
Now further research was needed to determine if these young women go on to experience urinary problems associated with pregnancy, she said.
"The really important question is what does it mean for their future? Are these young women the ones that go on to have urinary incontinence associated with pregnancy and how can the negative impacts of their condition be minimised?"
The study also detected small but significant impacts on the psychological wellbeing of young females with incontinence, with affected women scoring lower on quality of life indicators.
Bell said the study has identified a group in the community who may require particular attention by health professionals and policymakers to plan and manage their condition and its potential harmful effects.
Sexual activity and a history of childhood bed-wetting beyond the age of five were also identified as risk factors for urinary incontinence. However, in contrast, taking the oral contraceptive pill was actually protective for women.
Bell said further research was needed to unravel these relationships. "We can speculate why those things are factors but we don't really fully understand them by any means."
The research findings were presented at the recent Australasian Menopause Society Congress in September. The full results and analysis will be published later this year.Do you have an idea for a story?
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