Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) impacts around 1 in 4 women over the age of 18 in the U.S. alone. This means that either you or a woman you may know has experienced an involuntary leak during physical exertion like running, jumping, or coughing that puts pressure or stress on the bladder. While the occasional leak may just seem like an embarrassing nuisance to some, for many women the impact of SUI symptoms go much deeper. It can interfere with social life, self-esteem, and relationships that can have long-term effects on mental and physical health.
Self-EsteemIt’s pretty obvious that having an accidental leak whenever you laugh or sneeze or lift something is embarrassing. Beyond bathroom habits being a taboo conversation topic, women are often under the impression that incontinence is a sign of aging (it’s not!). Some women experience incontinence after childbirth or surgery when self-esteem is fragile and new mothers are susceptible to postpartum depression. So, while around 15 million women experience SUI, it is still generally seen as a sign of declining health and aging to women. In addition, incontinence product options can add to a bruised self-image. The process, from purchasing to disposing of incontinence pads and underwear, is embarrassing and can be another stressor for women that experience leaks. While pads and liners promise comfort and discrete protection, they can sometimes be bulky and obvious. Odor from the urine is a common concern that women face, especially if they need protection all day, and is usually hard to mask with perfume or spray. Women that face stress incontinence are oftentimes suffering from poor self-image that stems from it as well.
IsolationAn easy way to avoid the embarrassment of an accidental leak in public is to not go in public. Even if that means sacrificing plans and social outings. With the effect on self-esteem that SUI has, it's not uncommon for women to start practicing isolative behavior. For some, not being seen or interacting with others is a defense mechanism to avoid being judged for SUI symptoms, or their perceived flaws from lowered self-image. Missed social gatherings and canceled plans can start to impact relationships with friends and family members, leading to even further isolation and fewer interactions. Women feel that they can’t open up about what they’re experiencing, making them feel even more alone. Talking about incontinence with friends, loved ones, or even a healthcare professional is just too embarrassing to discuss. Not talking about leaks makes them feel even less normal and even more isolating even though it’s likely many women you know have been in the same situation. As social creatures, humans crave social interaction with each other and when women cut themselves off from those interactions as a result of SUI, it can negatively impact mental and physical health.
Health ImpactsMental health is vital to your overall well being and can affect your physical health. Experiencing SUI, as mentioned before, can impact a woman’s self-image and relationships. But these problems can lead to bigger mental health issues that may impact your body physically. Isolation can lead to fixation on negative thoughts and outcomes, paranoia, heightened stress responses, anxiety, and poor sleep quality. Low self-esteem can lead to anxiety and depression disorders, drug abuse, self-harm, or other reckless behavior. Depression can develop and have physical symptoms such as:
- Mood swings
- Lack of energy
- Slowed speech and body movements
- Weight loss/gain (usually to do with appetite or cravings)
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
- Body aches