Page last updated at 06:30 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 07:30 UK

Tackling 'stigma' of incontinence

By Kevin Leonard
BBC News

Louise Price
Louise Price says there is a stigma attached to incontinence

Many people with incontinence refuse to tell their family and friends, but 35-year-old Louise Price is different.

Mrs Price, from Newport, south Wales, talks openly about her condition, which is caused by multiple sclerosis.

She is one of 14m people in the UK - almost one in four - who have some kind of bladder control problem.

But Mrs Price recognises there is a stigma attached to a condition that is almost guaranteed to raise eyebrows at the dinner table.

Mrs Price said she was in so much pain she sought help quickly and was lucky to have a supportive husband and friends she could confide in.

"I'm very, very fortunate that a lot of my friends are in the nursing profession and one friend is a urology nurse," she said.

"I was having all this pain and I brought it up with her over a glass of wine on a Friday night.

"She said I needed to see a doctor and be referred properly."

Mrs Price, a petrol station cashier, was equally as open with her work colleagues which allowed her to continue in her job.

Karen Logan
The biggest frustration for us is that people don't come forward and suffer in silence
Karen Logan, nurse consultant

"Because it's a small team there, they all know about it and I was never on my own," she said.

"I can't imagine ever being in some jobs when you have got bladder problems."

But the stigma of the condition means many people suffer in silence, for years in many cases.

National Continence Awareness Week, from 15 - 19 September, run by the Bladder and Bowel Foundation, aims to raise awareness of bowel and bladder problems and tell people that help is available.

Karen Logan, a nurse consultant and head of continence services at Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, said some people refused to tell even their closest friends, let alone seek medical help.

"The biggest frustration for us is that people don't come forward and suffer in silence," she said.

14m people in the UK are affected by some sort of bladder problem
It's estimated that 6.5m people in the UK have some kind of bowel control problem
Women are more likely to be affected by bladder control problems than men
4.8m people in the UK under the age of 24 are estimated to have had bladder control problems.
Bladder problems are more likely as you get older, particularly after the age of 45
On average, the kidneys produce two to three pints of urine every 24 hours
The ancient Egyptians created catheters from reeds
Source: Bladder and Bowel Foundation

"It's normal for people to suffer for five to ten years with an overactive bladder or stress incontinence, triggered by sneezing or coughing for example.

"I've had people in the clinic who did nothing about it for over 20 years."

Problems can range in severity from a mildly overactive bladder, which may cause frequent trips to the toilet, to neurological conditions or impairments, such as MS and extreme diabetes, which can cause incontinence.

Some women who have had children suffer a weakening of their pelvic floor muscles which can cause incontinence and men's urine flow can weaken as they get older.

But help is available such as lifestyle advice about avoiding caffeine and fizzy drinks, bladder control training and medication.

In more extreme cases, such as Mrs Price, a disposable catheter can be inserted after urination to help empty the bladder.

Mrs Price said her life had been transformed and urged anybody with bladder or bowel problems to seek help.

"You will not be the first case anyone has heard about and you won't be the last. It's about getting your quality of life back," she said.

• Anyone with bladder or bowel problems can seek help from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation on 0845 345 0165. Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust is also running a helpline (01633 623784) on Monday, 22 September for sufferers in its area.

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