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Study: Female Incontinence is Common

Women often don't tell their doctors about incontinence,
overactive bladder, and pelvic organ prolapse, but those problems are common, a
new study shows.

The study urges women not to accept those problems as a normal part of

"Rather, they should focus on modifiable risk factors such as weight
loss and maintenance, and seek treatment for all conditions when they
occur," the researchers write in the March edition of Obstetrics &

The study included 4,103 women aged 25 to 84 (average age: 56) who got their
health care through Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

The women completed surveys about the following pelvic floor disorders:

  • Stress urinary incontinence: urine leakage when there is an increase in
    abdominal pressure, such as while exercising, laughing, sneezing, or

  • Overactive bladder: an urgent need to urinate.

  • Pelvic organ prolapse: the descent or drooping of the bladder, uterus,
    vagina, small bowel, or rectum.

  • Anal incontinence: defined in the study as leaking gas, as well as solid or
    liquid stool.

The survey's results:

  • 15% reported stress urinary incontinence

  • 13% reported overactive bladder

  •  6% reported pelvic organ prolapse

  • 25% reported anal incontinence

Many women had more than one pelvic floor disorder.

"Roughly 80% of women with stress urinary incontinence or overactive
bladder, 69% with pelvic organ prolapse, and 48% with anal incontinence
reported at least one other [pelvic floor] disorder," write the
researchers, who included Jean Lawrence, ScD, MPH, of Kaiser Permanente
Southern California.

Pelvic floor disorders were more common among older women. But age wasn't as
important as other factors, such as the number of babies the women had had by
vaginal birth, menopause, hysterectomy, smoking, and obesity.

It's not clear if the results apply to all women. Those with pelvic floor
disorders may have been more likely than women without those problems to
complete the survey.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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