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The Emotional Toll of Urinary Incontinence in Men

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WebMD Feature

Nearly one out of every five men over the age of 60 is having to deal with male urinary incontinence. That's a lot of people. But as common as male incontinence is, odds are good that you've never met a single guy who fessed up to having it. It's not exactly a topic men are anxious to discuss in the locker room or over drinks after work.

"For many men," says Tomas L. Griebling, MD, "incontinence is so embarrassing they won't discuss it with anybody." Griebling is vice chair of the department of urology at the University of Kansas in Kansas City.

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But why is it so embarrassing? It's because there's more to male incontinence than just the symptom. It's a condition that can affect how you see yourself. "Adult diapers" used to be a punch line or a gag gift; now it refers to the product in a drugstore isle that you're trying to choose. Urinary incontinence can make a self-assured guy feel like a humiliated, bed-wetting kid. It can make a healthy, active adult suddenly feel like an invalid. Male incontinence can have a corrosive effect on your state of mind.

But life doesn't have to be so bleak. If you're dealing with male incontinence -- with leaking and the constant worry about leaking -- here's some very good news. You can get help.

"The bottom line is that incontinence isn't something you have to live with," says Edward James Wright, MD, assistant professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. "It isn't a normal consequence of life. It's a problem, but a fixable problem." If your symptoms are stressing you out and taking a toll on your life, here's what you need to know:

The Impact of Male Incontinence

A lot of different things can cause male incontinence. It's often a side effect after surgery for prostate cancer or, less often, an enlarged prostate (BPH). It can be a symptom or a result of many different health conditions, for example diabetes, strokes, or MS. Sometimes it can develop for less clear reasons, such as an "overactive bladder."

Some guys deal with male incontinence pretty well. "I see some men who just pile on as many pads as they need, and it doesn't seem to slow them down," says Wright. But for many others -- because of different symptoms, experiences, and temperaments -- urinary incontinence can be debilitating.

"Some men with incontinence live in a state of constant anxiety," says Anthony R. Stone, MB, ChB. Stone is vice chair of urology at UC Davis Medical School in Sacramento. "They're thinking all day long, 'Is it going to leak through my pad?' That anxiety can have a huge, spiraling effect on their lives." Even the most mundane activities -- a meeting, a trip to the grocery store -- can become sources of enormous stress.

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