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Bladder Issues Do More Damage Than You Might Think

Have you ever coughed, sneezed, or laughed and… sprung a leak down under? Or been out in public and suddenly needed to pee so badly that you didn’t make it to the bathroom in time? If these situations sound familiar, then you’ve had urinary incontinence (UI) at least once in your life. Welcome to the club. Urinary incontinence is wildly common. Some research even shows that 60% of people with vaginas will experience UI at some point in their lives.

Urinary incontinence is so common that it's typically normalized and largely ignored — by the person experiencing it and by society in general. Unfortunately, normalizing and ignoring symptoms creates a ton of shame about the condition, and is likely what contributes to more than 50% of people with urinary incontinence suffering through their symptoms instead of getting help.

One big downside to ignoring the symptoms of urinary incontinence is that it comes with a hefty cost — the obvious kind that drains your bank account, and the socio-emotional kind that can be hard to describe but significantly lowers your quality of life.

To help you understand the true depth of the impact of urinary incontinence (and why some experts consider incontinence a public health crisis), we are digging into the research and empowering you with the info you need to make the best possible decisions about your body.

A quick overview of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is when you pee by accident. Technically, if you’ve ever had urine come out of your bladder when you didn’t intend it to — even a dribble, even just once — it’s considered incontinence. Of course, if it happens just once, it's not a problem. If it keeps happening? Time to take action.

There are three main types of UI, which are defined by what is provoking the leakage. These include:

  • Stress UI, which is the accidental leakage of urine during activities that put stress on your bladder such as laughing too hard, coughing, or sneezing. Stress incontinence happens when the muscles that support the bladder and/or the muscles that help to close the urethra are not able to sufficiently do their job.
  • Urge UI is the loss of urine most often caused by dysfunction and overactivity in the muscle that surrounds and contracts to empty the bladder (the detrusor muscle) or referred pain from muscle knots in the pelvic floor or hips. If you’ve ever had a sudden urge to pee that was so intense you couldn’t hold it long enough to get to a toilet, then you’ve experienced Urge UI.
  • Mixed UI is bladder leakage that is caused by both moments of pressure on the bladder and times when overactivity of the detrusor muscles or irritated pelvic floor muscles are at play.

Though all folks can be impacted by incontinence, the condition is more common in people with vaginas. Other factors associated with a greater risk of UI include:

  • Childbirth
  • Menopause
  • high body weight
  • abdominal surgeries
  • high impact sports

If you’ve ever had UI, there’s a chance it could get worse over time, especially as you age. So, if you’ve ever had any leakage, it’s a good idea to talk to your primary care physician, because as you will soon see, these symptoms are about to get expensive.

The Financial Costs of UI

Managing the symptoms of UI isn’t cheap, even if you don’t need expensive interventions like surgery. For example, when left with the assumption that UI is just something you have to manage on your own, you’ll likely be relying on a regular subscription to expensive hygiene products such as pantyliners, menstrual pads, or adult diapers to soak up the evidence of your incontinence. Even if you save on the longer-term use of reusable incontinence protection, you’re still stuck with the persistent laundry bill.

To put it in perspective, a study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that women with UI spent, on average, $5 per week on absorbent pads or adult diapers to manage their UI. That’s $260 per year just on incontinence products. Another study conducted by the same research team found that people with severe symptoms of UI spend about $33 per week on incontinence products, which adds up to over $1,700 per year.

Of course, the cost of products isn’t the only cost associated with managing UI. There are also surprising healthcare costs, such as the cost related to caring for incontinence-related skin issues or urinary tract infections, both of which are more common if you have incontinence.

Research suggests that people with UI spend about $900 a year specifically on managing their symptoms, and about 70% of these costs are paid out of pocket. A 2022 study even found that the overall annual healthcare costs were significantly higher for people with UI, totaling about $7,000 per year for people with UI versus about $3,300 for people without UI.

What's more is that these numbers only represent the costs of managing UI without surgery. Depending on the specific procedure and the location of the hospital where the surgery is performed, surgery to treat UI can cost between $5,000 and $20,000. While some of this cost may be covered by insurance, it depends on the insurance company. No wonder this study found that 22% of more than 9,500 study participants avoided treating their UI symptoms because of financial distress.

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The Quality of Life Costs of UI

What may be even more significant to consider than the financial impact, is the impact that incontinence has on your quality of life. Several studies have shown that UI takes a substantial toll on mental health. Participants in multiple studies looking at the mental health impacts of UI shared that their symptoms negatively impacted their self-esteem, body image, and sense of self. They also said that their symptoms caused significant embarrassment, which impacted their social lives and relationships, leaving them feeling isolated. Additionally, UI symptoms interfered with their work lives because they were often late, had to leave work, or had trouble focusing on work because of their UI symptoms. Participants in several studies also talked about how they felt they had to structure their lives around their UI symptoms, and spent a significant amount of time fixating on the symptom management logistics.

Unsurprisingly, several studies have confirmed that people living with UI score much lower on Quality of Life assessments which are surveys that help researchers determine how people’s lives are impacted by specific factors. Even women with mild UI had markedly lower quality-of-life scores compared to women without UI, and the women who reported severe symptoms had the lowest quality-of-life scores.

Additionally, several studies have found that UI is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety, and that people with UI are significantly more likely to take medication for anxiety and/or depression.

Luckily, urinary incontinence is highly treatable

With an enhanced understanding of the real costs associated with incontinence, it’s easy to see that we deserve accessible, affordable, and fully informed treatment solutions for urinary incontinence.

For new and/or persistent urinary incontinence symptoms, the first step should always be to see a medical professional who can help you determine, and understand the underlying cause of your bladder leakage. This is a crucial step in making sure that your treatment options are individualized and effective for your needs. Once you understand more about your bladder health, you can work with your primary care doctor, gynecologist, urogynecologist, or even pelvic physical therapist, to help figure out what kinds of treatments can help.

For many causes of urinary incontinence, pelvic floor physical therapy is the first line of treatment. The pelvic floor physical therapy is highly effective in targeting, and treating any muscle-related causes of your urinary symptoms.

Other treatments for UI range from lifestyle changes — such as changing your diet, and altering how and when you urinate in order to regain bladder control — to medication. When conservative treatment options fail, at-home catheter use and/or surgery may be recommended. For most people, a combination of lifestyle changes, pelvic floor physical therapy, and maybe medication is adequate for managing or eliminating UI symptoms.

Is pelvic floor PT at Origin the answer you’ve been looking for?

The bottom line is that the financial and mental health costs associated with UI are way too high. Those living with UI need a solution that drastically cuts those costs, and research suggests pelvic floor PT could be that solution. A review of the research into pelvic floor PT for UI found that 56% of people with Stress UI reported that their symptoms were “cured” at the end of a course of treatment. Almost three-quarters of these participants said their symptoms improved. For those with Urge UI and Mixed UI, 67% reported noticeable improvement.

It’s time to reconsider the exorbitant costs of managing your UI on your own and get in touch with Origin’s experts today. Through evidence-based treatment techniques and highly effective pelvic floor exercises, we will work with you to eliminate the physical, financial, and even emotional impact of urinary incontinence. We accept most major insurance companies so that the majority of your pelvic floor PT treatment costs are taken care of for you, helping to reduce your overall financial burden. We look forward to improving your symptoms and boosting your confidence with pelvic floor PT.

Origin contributing writer Robin Zabiegalski
Robin Zabiegalski

Robin Zabiegalski (they/them) is a queer, non-binary writer and movement instructor. They are currently a Health and Wellness Features Writer for Static Media, and their writing has been published on xoJane, Heavy.com, Health Digest, Glam, Kinkly, The Establishment, Sexual Being, The Tempest, and other digital media publications. When Robin isn't writing they can be found practicing or teaching yoga, training or teaching Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, playing Fortnite with their partner or chasing their rambunctious preschooler.

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