The gynaecologist with an interest in female urology will see women with a range of symptoms, including urinary frequency (both daytime and nocturnal), urgency, incomplete bladder emptying, poor urinary stream, recurrent ‘cystitis’ and bladder pain. Many of these symptoms can coexist with each other but the majority of referrals will include the symptom of urinary incontinence. Unlike the case with many of the other symptoms above, the prevalence of this condition has been well documented; furthermore, much work has been done on assessing the impact of urinary incontinence on lifestyle and quality of life.
Urinary incontinence is a common symptom that can affect women of all ages. While rarely being life threatening, incontinence can seriously influence physical, psychological and social wellbeing. The impact on the families and carers of women with urinary incontinence can be profound, and the resource implications for the health service are considerable.
Urinary incontinence, as defined by the International Continence Society, is the complaint of any involuntary leakage of urine. Urinary incontinence is a common problem throughout the world. In the UK alone it has been estimated that more than 3.5 million people are affected.
Not everyone with incontinence is sufficiently bothered by their symptom to want help; it has been estimated that approximately half of people with urinary incontinence, equating to one in ten women and one in 30 men aged over 35 years, would welcome some form of treatment. However, there is reluctance to seek help: only about one-third of women who are regularly incontinent discuss their problem with a nurse or GP.