Imagine having to plan every moment of your day plotting your bathroom breaks. Or mapping out where the closest restroom is. Or what color pants to wear in case you have an accident.
Maybe you can’t imagine. Or maybe you can.
As a practicing female pelvic medicine specialist and urologist, I have seen more than my fair share of women living with overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms: the urgent and frequent need to urinate often associated with incontinence. Unfortunately, by the time women come to see me about their symptoms, they have been living and coping with the condition for months or even years.
Over time, frequent and urgent urination can make it challenging to live a “normal” life. Many women plan their daily routines around the availability of a bathroom. They alter their lifestyles to accommodate their bladder — skipping important events and staying at home, often experiencing an increasing sense of isolation. When they do go out, they wear pads, adult diapers, pack wet wipes and changes of clothing.
If you are dealing with OAB, you are not alone. Approximately 46 million Americans who are 40 and older experience OAB symptoms at least sometimes. However, only one in eight women experiencing symptoms actually seek treatment.
November is Bladder Health Awareness Month. What better time than now to advocate for adults dealing with this issue and emphasize to them that OAB is a manageable condition? Treatments are available, so if you find yourself running to the bathroom eight or more times a day, it is time to talk to your doctor. In my practice, I hear stories of women resigned to “missing out” — missing the last scene of that hit Broadway play because they couldn’t make it to intermission or standing in long lines at public restrooms while missing quality time with friends and family. Others work to hide their condition from loved ones (and their health care providers) due to shame and embarrassment.
Many women assume their symptoms are a normal part of aging. Others place their own bladder health on the backburner as they navigate their daily roles as caregiver to their children, families and aging parents. Their health becomes secondary. In fact, recent findings from the 2017 Peehavior survey, conducted by Astellas Pharma US, Inc., and Ipsos Public Affairs, suggest that bladder health is not a top priority for a majority of women. This survey captured the feelings, perspectives and bathroom preferences of 2,854 women across the United States from diverse backgrounds. Specifically, the survey found that almost 40 percent of women do not confide in anyone about peeing frequently, and 60 percent do not think about their bladder health often or at all.
Talking to Your Doctor About OAB
For anyone experiencing the symptoms of OAB, it can be embarrassing and intimidating to see and talk to a doctor, but there are ways to help make this important conversation go smoothly.
- Be prepared. There are questionnaires available online to help women prepare for conversations with their doctors about their bladder health.
- Trust verified sources. Be careful when searching the internet for medical information. It is important to consult your doctor to verify that the information you found is accurate and credible. Before your next doctor’s visit, check out StopStalling.com, which provides tips and tools for navigating the discussion around bladder health. You can also find helpful resources at Urology Care Foundation.
Make your bladder health a priority by Stop Stalling and making an appointment to talk to your doctor. Just starting the conversation is an easy first step — and remember, you’re not alone.
Ekene Enemchukwu, M.D., M.P.H. is a practicing female pelvic medicine specialist and urologic surgeon in northern California with a medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, urology training from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and fellowship training from New York University Langone Medical Center. She is working with Astellas to raise awareness about the symptoms associated with overactive bladder as part of the Stop Stalling campaign.