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The Emotional Toll of Urinary Incontinence in Men

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The Impact of Male Incontinence continued...

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.

"If you peer into the lives of some men with incontinence," Wright tells WebMD "they would meet all the criteria for depression." They lose interest in things they used to enjoy and start secluding themselves, he says. Their jobs are affected and their sex lives fall apart. "But they're too embarrassed to talk about it," Wright adds, "so they wind up living in their own private hell."

So how specifically does male incontinence affect a man's life?

  • Work. Obviously, any guy with urinary incontinence is going to be anxious about mishaps while at work. But men who have jobs with physical demands may find that it's worse than that. "Some men find that heavy lifting at work can cause leaking," says Griebling. "They can be really stuck. Sometimes they try to change what they do at work or get a new job altogether." 
  • Social Life. Incontinence can quickly diminish the scope of a man's personal life. Your pals ask you out on the town. Your girlfriend wants to go to the movies. But your decision is always dictated by the answer to the same question: how close will I be to a bathroom? Car rides of any length might seem out of the question. So can sports. Maybe the physicality of tennis triggers symptoms; maybe golf takes you too far from the clubhouse. When male incontinence is severe -- or severely stressful -- it can feel easiest and safest to stay home. 
  • Relationships and sexual health. Male incontinence can put enormous stress on a marriage."I see some guys who really alienate their spouses," says Wright. "They're just not comfortable talking about it, so they push their wives away."

Their sex lives suffer too. "Some men limit or completely stop sexual activity because they have a fear of leaking," says Griebling. Unfortunately, it's not an irrational fear. "I've seen some men who only have incontinence during sexual activity," he tells WebMD. It doesn't take more than a single mishap for a guy to become terribly self-conscious. 

  • Sleep. The stress of male incontinence alone can keep some guys awake. And if you're popping out of bed every couple of hours to run to the bathroom, you're not getting much rest. You start each day exhausted and dragging, which only makes your mood worse.
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When do you need help managing incontinence?