Destigmatizing Urinary Incontinence for Men
Eliminating urologic health shame so that men can get the care they need.
For many men, being a proactive advocate for their general health care is a task loaded with perceived societal and cultural expectations of bravery or to "tough it out" when something feels off. Regarding urologic function, the specific area of health that predominantly occurs "below the belt," men may feel those perceived expectations more intensely. Shame can accompany such expectations, which prevents many men experiencing urologic symptoms from seeking the care they need sooner rather than later.
Urinary incontinence is one urologic health condition where embarrassment and denial can prevent men from seeing a doctor at the earliest signs of a problem. Plenty of men experience urinary incontinence at some point in their lives. But as we know with most health issues, waiting too long to seek treatment can often make problems worse, not better. So, it's essential for men experiencing urinary incontinence symptoms to know first that they're not alone. Secondly, a bit of understanding can go a long way towards helping men feel safe and confident in accessing the health care they need for urinary health issues as soon as they need it.
Let’s face it, no one wants to experience urine leakage unexpectedly. But as a urologic health concern, urinary incontinence disproportionately affects women. Depending on age, some form of urinary incontinence can affect up to 50 percent of women and only about 14 percent of men at some point in life. As such, the condition is seen by much of society as a "woman's issue."
As a point of historical reference, the most popular brand of disposable adult incontinence products began selling adult diapers in 1984. For more than 20 years, manufacturers marketed those products mainly to an older female audience and by a principal spokesperson who was a female. That brand didn't begin making incontinence products designed for and marketed specifically to men until 2009. So, when we couple the shame and perceived societal and cultural expectations that men experience about urinary incontinence with the historical marketing of products to help destigmatize the problem for women, we can begin to see the complicated barriers that stop men from taking action to remedy the situation.
Psychological factors that can act as barriers to care are important considerations for health care workers to build trust with our patients, which will help us get to the bottom of health issues at the first signs of a problem. As a urologist, one of the essential parts of my job is to investigate why the symptoms of urinary incontinence are occurring. In men, urinary incontinence can be a common and usually temporary side effect of prostate or bladder surgery. But in these cases, the men experiencing these symptoms have been prepared to expect them and informed that they would likely resolve over time. Unexpected urinary incontinence in men can be a much tougher thing to experience and often has an underlying cause that does require an accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment.
Prostate enlargement is one of the chief reasons a man might experience urinary incontinence, and it warrants a trip to the urologist ASAP. An enlarged prostate can alter the normal flow of urine, sometimes leading to a weakened urine stream, issues with urinary frequency, and leakage. Other conditions such as diabetes or a neurological disorder can also lead to bladder control issues in men. They also warrant medical care and attention to ensure the problems don't worsen. In these instances, it can be important for men to see urinary incontinence as a warning light, like those in their car. It indicates that something is wrong and needs to be addressed, so the car keeps running smoothly.
Whether or not the cause of man's urinary incontinence is easily identified and treated, there are many options today for managing the condition. From lifestyle changes to certain types of medication or surgery in rare cases, plenty of men in every age range live active, healthy lives while managing their urinary incontinence symptoms. There is no shame in getting help, gentlemen. I'm here to tell every man that taking the reins on his personal health is one of the smartest and bravest things you can do.