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18th November 2014

Hands up! Who wants to talk about incontinence?

No? Anybody? Pity, because around one in four adults can suffer from bladder problems, with women more likely to be affected than men.

And when we say ‘suffer’, we mean it.

The physical symptoms are well known but the psychological trauma of losing control can be profound.

Take Emma Ibbetson for example. Emma knew her son’s first day of school could be stressful, even dramatic. But it was far worse than she had ever expected.

Sitting with her four-year-old son, Jonah, waiting to meet his teacher for the first time, Emma began to cough.

She coughed again. And again. And then – completely involuntarily – lost control of her bladder.

Her plastic chair was wet and she was surrounded by other parents and their children. Emma did the only thing should could: she stood up swiftly and pushed the chair under the table in the hope that nobody would notice.

Not for the first time, Emma had been embarrassed by her bladder. But even though she knew coughs, sneezes and laughter can be a trigger, there was little she could do except dread the inevitable humiliation.

Urinary incontinence tends to affect more women than men. Emma recalls suffering from short-term bladder sensitivity during pregnancy and then enduring more prolonged problems as a result of a back problem.

For anyone living with incontinence, the lack of control is a major challenge. For busy people with small families, incontinence is a living nightmare.

How do you go to work, run errands, sit through music recitals, or ferry kids from school to football practice if you cannot be confident that your bladder is up to it?

Quality of life

Sufferers can experience depression, low self-esteem, embarrassment and sleep disturbances. In some cases, the condition – and the loss of confidence that accompanies it – can put a strain on romantic relationships.

Because nobody wants to talk about it, most sufferers don’t realise how common their condition is. And they don’t know that while its causes can be complex, many forms of incontinence can be treated and managed.

Check out this TV show which looks at one of the ways to solve the problem – and change the life of one young woman.


If you’d like a more fundamental look at the causes and consequences of urinary incontinence, here’s a video by a urogynaecologist.

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