Nearly Half of Women Over 50 Experience Bladder Leakage

A new study found that urinary incontinence is a common experience among American women, but the majority don’t discuss it with their doctors.

As you hop to the beat of a blaring hip-hop song during your weekly dance class, it happens again: you accidentally leak a little urine. Face flush from embarrassment, you look around the space to see if anyone noticed and wonder if you’re the only one in the room whose bladder releases at inappropriate times. But according to the results of a new national survey released by the University of Michigan, you’re not alone.

In the university’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, 46 percent of 1,027 women ages 50 to 80 reported experiencing urinary incontinence in the past year. Of the women who had leakage episodes, one in three had them almost daily, and the incontinence was typically triggered by coughing or sneezing, trying to get to the bathroom, laughing, and exercising.


Even though 41 percent of those women who have urinary incontinence feel it’s problematic and almost half worry about their symptoms worsening, the majority haven’t discussed their leakage problems with their doctor; nearly half of these women don’t bring it up because they prioritize other medical issues or don’t see it as a real health problem. Instead, they’re attempting to manage their symptoms on their own, most commonly by using pads or protective underwear, doing Kegels, limiting fluid intake, or opting for outfits that hide any accidents.

"It's both surprising and disheartening to see that so many women seem to believe that incontinence is just a normal part of aging because it's not," Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP, told the University of Michigan Health Lab. "A lot of women are unnecessarily limiting their daily activities and not enjoying life fully because of a condition that can often be remedied."

No matter the cause for the incontinence, there are various medical or surgical treatments for women who deal with the health issue, including receiving a Botox injection in the bladder, engaging in pelvic floor physical therapy, and cutting back on caffeine, artificial sweeteners, nicotine, and alcohol which can irritate the bladder. The first step to relief, however, is bringing up the condition with a doctor. If you’re embarrassed to talk about your leakage, keep a journal logging your symptoms and when you’re having them and bring it to your appointment — you won't have to face the daunting task of saying your concerns aloud, and your doctor will be able to receive all the information they need.

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