It is estimated that there are around 4 million men in the UK with some form of bladder problem. However, this number could arguably be much higher as many men do not speak out about it. As Gordon Muir, Consultant Urologist at King’s College Hospital asserts “Men will just not talk about it, so no-one really knows the true extent”.
The unfortunate fact is that men experiencing urinary incontinence rarely seek help. Many men across the globe choose instead to live their lives around finding the proximity of the nearest toilet.
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The myths of bladder problems often obstruct people from getting the help they need to live their life to the full. Many individuals in society believe that incontinence and other bladder problems are a problem only for seniors. This leaves younger men feeling isolated and alone, unwilling to share their concerns. Incontinence is a big business due to an ageing population and rising obesity, which is often linked to the condition. The quality of life of incontinent men may be underestimated by health professionals due to lack of information. It is, therefore, becoming increasingly important for us to erase the taboo of bladder problems in men.
Many studies of emotional and social domains on this subject show that fear, anger and even sleep disorders can develop due to bladder problems. This rapidly reduces quality of life. A study in 2013 aimed to analyse studies on the quality of life and experiences of men with urinary incontinence. The study found that incontinence and sexual impotence have a huge impact on a man’s social life, psychological and physical health. It was found that male incontinence may also be the determining cause of social and sexual interaction restrictions. The study concluded that the more severe the incontinence symptoms of men are, the lower the sexual desire and satisfaction. The anxiety caused by a bladder problem can severely reduce a man’s frequency of social activity. The implications of odour and wet clothing can affect the emotional, psychological and social well-being of men, and they may begin to feel stigmatised. Another finding of the study was that the majority of men with incontinence feel as though they should publicly appear as a person who does not have the disease. This means a large group of people are trying to keep their social identity as continent rather than talking about bladder problems.
The key problems incontinent men experience due to this taboo are the following:
-Decreased quality of life
-Negative impact on sex life
-Feeling as though they are “different”, not fitting in
-Avoidance of exercise and previously enjoyed activities
Peter, aged 58, shared his own struggles on the product manufacturer Tena’s website. He claims “I’ve always been a very outgoing guy who loves a full calendar when I’m not working. But when I realised that I was suffering from urine leakage, I thought I had to give up socialising. Enjoying myself in the company of others wasn’t the easiest thing when I was constantly thinking about if I would need to go soon.” He admits, “I started making excuses not to join up for beers or meeting up too far away from home. Eventually, I tried drinking less water daily so I wouldn’t need to urinate as much, but that just gave me headaches.”
Gill Turton, the spokeswoman for the Bladder and Bowel Foundation states, “we know that many people keep their incontinence a secret, even from their loved ones, for many years”. The key to getting men talking about bladder problems in men may be to erase the myth that incontinence is just a woman’s problem. An advert by Tena for Tena Men aimed to break this taboo by tackling the problem with comedy. Stirling Gravitas, a self-styled “gold medallist” was the new face of Tena Men incontinence pads. In the advertisement, Stirling claimed,“I’m in control of all aspects of my life”. This campaign aimed to challenge the view that incontinence is solely a woman’s problem.
The following actions can help to reduce the number of men who suffer in silence:
Encourage the development of new products
If you are experiencing any bladder problems, it is important that you talk with your Doctor or a Urologist about any symptoms you are experiencing and when they began. Many men often wait 1-3 years before seeking help, which can be damaging to a person’s quality of life and self-esteem. There is currently an urgent need to talk to Doctors and Urologists about incontinence so we can boost creativity among medical manufacturers. The more men are reaching out, the more hospitals can investigate bladder control products and improve the market. You can read our guide on how to talk to a Urologist about incontinence if you are unsure of how to approach this.
Educate the people around you
If you are suffering from incontinence, it is important to educate others about the condition so more of us have an open mind. You can help tackle the taboo by ensuring people around you understand the meaning of commonly used words surrounding incontinence. This can reduce the risk of people offending or misunderstanding others with bladder problems. By plucking up the courage to talk to others, you are contributing towards ensuring others are gentle and understanding when discussing this health issue. Dr Sarah McMullen, NTC Head of Knowledge states, “many people find bladder health a difficult and embarrassing subject to raise. However, if we can break the taboo, we can bring about a change that will dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people!”
Try Different Products for Perfect Protection
You should also be proactive and ensure you are using a protective product. With the incontinence market growing, there are now products that are designed specially to provide maximum discretion. Pads for men are now designed with a super-absorbent gel which reduces odour and prevents leakage, which are two main fears men have about incontinence. You do not have to settle for a bulky, nappy style product. There are now comfortable products that allow freedom of movement such as stretchy “all in one” pants. Products have different absorbency ratings and sizes to ensure you find one for your individual needs.
Are you unsure of which product to buy? Have a read of our Guide to Men’s Incontinence Products for more information.
Lastly, although you may be embarrassed, you should remember that bladder control problems are often highly treatable. Derick Fage described his own battles with discussing incontinence on the Canadian Continence website. He explains, “Like anything it causes you anxiety and embarrassment, I always chose not to discuss it. However, after meeting so many people over the last few years suffering from different forms of incontinence, I figured it was time to stand up and share my story.” He emphasises the importance of sharing the problem, insisting “If you have a story I encourage you to share it.”
Related: Are you a man experiencing stress incontinence? Visit our Guide to Stress Incontinence in Men for expert tips and advice.