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Laughter not the best medicine for bladder leakage

Australian women are willing to tell others about their bladder leakage but the majority simply laugh off the health issue, a new survey has found.

The Continence Foundation of Australia survey of 1000 women aged 30 years or older found that while women with bladder leakage bring up the condition in discussions with girlfriends, almost three in four laughed off the issue and eight in 10 failed to seek help for the problem.

Of particular concern for the foundation was the finding that 85 per cent of women who laughed off bladder leakage mistakenly attributed the condition to ageing or having children.

Academic nurse consultant Dr Joan Ostaszkiewicz, honorary research fellow with the National Ageing Research Institute, said the Foundation wants people to know that incontinence, whilst common, is not normal and should be treated, just like any other health condition.

“One of the barriers to treatment is a general lack of health literacy about incontinence, even among healthcare professionals and care workers,” Ostaszkiewicz said. “Education programs that prepare the healthcare and care workforce don't usually include information about therapies to promote continence, or equip students with the knowledge and skills they need in order to conduct a comprehensive assessment. This is a long-standing issue that needs to be tackled at multiple levels.”

Ostaszkiewicz said low literacy about incontinence deters efforts toward prevention and results in missed opportunities for therapeutic consultation. She added it also deters people from seeking help and that’s why many people with incontinence are willing to share the information with friends but not seek help from a healthcare professional.

Continence Foundation of Australia chief executive Rowan Cockerell said the good news for people with bladder leakage is that treatment usually involves simple lifestyle changes and pelvic floor muscle exercises, which everyone should be doing anyway to prevent incontinence.

The Foundation's survey found that while 77 per cent of women with bladder leakage knew pelvic floor muscle exercises could prevent or improve incontinence, just 2 per cent performed them the recommended three times a day. Just under half did not seek treatment for bladder leakage because they didn’t consider it a serious enough health issue.

“Prevention is always better than a cure, but early treatment is really key to fixing the problem,” Cockerell said. “People who ignore the issue are often unaware of the impact incontinence has on their lifestyle, whether it be avoiding exercise or limiting social engagements for fear of an embarrassing accident.

“Women shouldn’t have to fear winter coughs and spring sneezes when treatment is readily available and has proven to be so successful. Incontinence isn’t something you have to put up with for the rest of your life.”

For more information, contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 or click here.

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