Still Tough to Talk About Incontinence

April 2008

New international research1 conducted on behalfof SCA Personal Care, and presented at the 2nd Global Forum onIncontinence (GFI), points to an array of failings in society that keeps incontinence,rooted towards the bottom of the healthcare agenda. 

Incontinence remains an isolating and debilitating condition and a clear communication barrier exists, even amongst those experiencing the condition. 

The top-line statistics illustrate how the stigma attached to the condition across all cultures is preventing sufferers finding the support and resolution they might otherwise enjoy. 

- Only 6 out of 10 sufferers were comfortable talking about the issue with their partner- And less than 3 out of 10 with members of their close family This stigma is even more isolating for women, possibly as incontinence can affect them generally at a much younger age than men, often presenting after childbirth. In addition women felt less comfortable talking to their GP or partners than men, and relied more on their network of close friends. 

Society it seems has a fear of incontinence, which is often interpreted as a sign of old age and infirmity. This fear however is greatest amongst those that do not suffer with the problem. The perception amongst those who are not sufferers, on the impact of incontinence on daily life, is the exact polar opposite of the actual impact experienced by those with the condition. 

8 out of 10 non-sufferers perceive a moderate to dramatic impact on daily life while 8 out of 10 sufferers rate the impact as very little or no affect at all.

'This perception clearly reinforces the taboo that incontinence is some sort of life sentence,' said Professor Ian Milsom, Chair of the 2nd Global Forum on Incontinence. 'While the impact for some is obviously huge, the majority of people are able to live fulfilling lives. This is clearly not how society would see it.' 

A measure of this taboo is illustrated by two key findings from this latest research - talking about incontinence rates is as uncomfortable as a conversation about sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. And that the media is twice as likely to write an article about STIs as it is about incontinence. 

'There is little doubt that the unfashionable and taboo nature of incontinence is a barrier that prevents effective discussion and practical intervention,' commented Prof. Milsom. 

'This is also supported by the fact that GPs often overestimate a patients discomfort in talking about the issue, when what the patient actually wants is an open discussion and good advice.' 

7 out of 10 GPs do not think incontinence is discussed enough and that if it were it would make their job and the life of the patient considerably better. 

'I think we have come some way in the past 10-20 years in reducing the social taboo of incontinence,' said Prof. Milsom. 'Products are advertised on television and the internet and this obviously helps to normalise this common condition. However, I am afraid we are still some way off treating an issue, that will after all affect many of us in some way or another in our lifetime, as normal a healthcare problem as asthma, raised cholesterol or depression.' 

Full details of the research will be presented at the 2nd Global Forum on Incontinence in Nice, 2-3 April 2008. The GFI will focus the talents of over 250 international delegates on the issue of balancing the health economics of incontinence with the quality of life for patients and the care givers. 

Full details will be available via where those who are interested can also register for up-dates and latest research from the GFI. 


1. Incontinence Taboo study among the General Public in France, the Netherlands and the UK (1002 interviews per country with sufferers and non-sufferers- during March 2008) and among GP's in the UK and the Netherlands (100 interviews in UK 111 interviews in NL during March 2008) - Carried out by TNS on behalf of SCA Personal Care