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Beneath the little black dress, 1000s of women are having to hide their protective ‘party pants’ to avoid an awkward moment.
And, whilst the annual Office Christmas party might have all the ingredients for festive fun (with copious amounts of drinking and dancing) it is often a recipe for disaster in terms of those embarrassing leaks as festivities get into full swing.
In order to avoid these potential leaks, many women who live with stress urinary incontinence (SUI) on a daily basis will resort to incontinence products such as pads or pants, now widely marketed as a discreet and desirable staple of any woman’s wardrobe.
Yet, despite the phenomenal growth of this sector – predicted to be worth almost £15 billion by 2026 – a new survey1 commissioned by ‘Control Your Choice’, has shown that almost three quarters of women (72%) said they ‘felt embarrassed about wearing incontinence products’. Of these, 29% said it led to a fear of going out. Furthermore, almost a third (31%) of women are ‘depressed by the thought of having to wear incontinence products for decades.’
60% of all those questioned said they were concerned about the environmental impact of incontinence pads. Such pads are not easily disposed of and end up in land fill sites, taking hundreds of years to decompose.
In response to the so-called ‘mesh scandal’, the past six months, has seen a huge push by the manufacturers of incontinence products encouraging women to turn to ‘pads and pants’ as a solution to their SUI. A strategy that has also led to a complaint from the Royal College of Nursing to the advertising watchdog.
So, leading experts are now calling for women to see past the recent headlines and, rather than suffering in silence, encouraging them to speak to a healthcare professional about their problem as a priority. Effective alternatives to mesh and incontinence products are available on the NHS and women need to discuss the best available treatment options for them.
Nicola Dean, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, based at York Hospital, is supporting the ‘Control Your Choice’, campaign.
She warns that although SUI is common, it is not ‘normal’ – a myth perpetuated by the manufacturers – and that women should be encouraged to ask for professional help and not just ‘put up with pads’.
The new survey also reports that 41% of UK women have used an incontinence product to help contain bladder leaks. And, when asked what activities might prompt them to wear an incontinence pad, around one quarter (24%) women would think about using such a product if they were going out socially or on a date.
Ms Dean, who recommends that women consider a treatment known as ‘bladder neck bulking’ to treat their SUI, says; As a healthcare professional, committed to helping women regain their confidence following a diagnosis of stress urinary incontinence, it worries me that a growing number of women are seemingly avoiding asking for expert help, through fear or misinformation and missing out on the opportunity to explore other successful treatments options.”
“Whether a woman is referred for physiotherapy, pelvic floor exercises, pilates or a procedure, in my opinion no patient should ever simply be sent away and told just to put up with pads.”
Indeed, NICE Guidelines advise that “absorbent containment products should be used only as an interim coping strategy while more definitive treatment is awaited.”
SUI affects an estimated 30% of women worldwide. Two thirds of women suffering from SUI are undiagnosed. It can occur at any stage of life, with risk factors including pelvic problems from pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, menopause and ageing.
Yet, despite its prevalence and impact on the quality of life, the Control Your Choice campaign has also shown that well over a third of women (39%) say they’d waited up to six months before eventually seeking treatment. A staggering 12% left it for up to five years or more.
Bulking agents are a minimally invasive (meaning no cutting of the patient’s tissue or skin), safe and effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence which have been used for over 10 years.
An online survey was carried out among 2,001 women aged 18+. The research fieldwork took place between the 21st and the 27th of August 2019.