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Oops, I Leaked: Tales of Incontinence

Gotta go all the time? Worried you'll wet your pants if you laugh too hard? You may be suffering from mild incontinence, and you're not alone.
By Suzanne Wright
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

"I'm more sensitive now to women when they say they've 'gotta go,'" says 51-year-old professional speaker, author, and prostate cancer survivor Chuck Gallagher. The Greenville, S.C., resident experienced mild incontinence for six weeks following his laparoscopic surgery. "Guys don't want to talk about it; it's embarrassing. They think they have to suck it up and deal with it."

And men aren't the only ones who don't want to talk about their little leaks or mild incontinence.

According to the National Association for Continence (NAFC), 25 million Americans suffer from transient or chronic urinary incontinence. Statistically, it's a condition that skews toward women; 75%-80% of sufferers are female. Even more staggering, women wait nearly seven years before talking to their doctor or seeking treatment. But regardless of gender, one-third of the population thinks incontinence is a natural part of aging, something they have to contend with rather than conquer. 

"It's time for incontinence to come out of the 'water closet,'" says Jill Rabin, MD, chief of ambulatory care and urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She is the co-author of Mind Over Bladder: I Never Met a Bathroom I Didn't Like.  "This is a quality-of-life issue. You don't have to tolerate it. It's treatable in almost every situation."

Talking about a leaky bladder or the frequency of your bathroom breaks may not be fodder for Facebook updates. But more and more people are taking Rabin's advice and doing something about their incontinence. WebMD talked to real women and men who experienced incontinence at various points in their lives. Read on for their stories.

The Personal Side of Incontinence

Meet Tasha Mulligan of Des Moines, Iowa. The physical therapist, athletic trainer, triathlete, and mother of three refused to let mild incontinence slow her down.

"The topic of incontinence isn't one that I have always been focused on, but my own journey through pregnancy and delivery pushed me into the women's health field of physical therapy five years ago. After my delivery, my pelvic floor just didn't bounce back," she tells WebMD. "Then I began to realize that a lot of my female patients would laugh and joke about wetting their pants as I asked them to perform specific exercises. My grandmother talked about her uterine prolapse, and my pregnant friends were asking a lot of questions about why they couldn't hold their bladder. I began to realize the widespread effect of weak pelvic floor muscles."

This revelation -- that women are disproportionately affected by incontinence -- spurred her to action.

"Just like after knee surgery when we have to do exercises to ensure that our quadricep muscle will fire again and resume normal strength, we should also exercise our pelvic floors after the trauma of pregnancy and delivery to keep us continent and 'supported,'" says Mulligan.

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