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Bladder shame is stopping 66% of British men from seeking help for incontinence

Man seeking medical help. New research has revealed many men are too embarrassed to see a doctor about incontinence.  (Getty Images)
Men are too embarrassed to seek help for incontinence. (Getty Images)

Men are feeling too embarrassed to seek help for incontinence, choosing instead to ignore the problem in the hope it will go away.

New research has revealed two thirds (66%) of British men would be too ashamed to tell their family and friends if they suffered from urinary incontinence.

What's more, 43% of men have hidden their bladder weakness from health professionals completely because they are too self-conscious to speak about it.

But not addressing the issue simply creates further problems, with 41% admitting to feeling frightened, a third saying they feel ashamed (33%) and lonely (24%) about keeping their medical issues under wraps.

More worryingly, almost a quarter (23%) of men stated that incontinence has affected their mental health.

Shame surrounding incontinence is impacting many men's mental health. (Getty Images)
Shame surrounding incontinence is impacting many men's mental health. (Getty Images)

To help tackle the issue, and as part of November's Men’s Health Awareness Month, bladder leak protection brand, TENA, the company that compiled the poll, has partnered with Prostate Cancer UK, to help raise awareness of medical issues suffered by men.

Incontinence is a common and often unexpected symptom of prostate cancer and TENA is working with the charity to support those suffering to help End Bladder Shame.

The campaign aims to normalise the conversation around the issue and break the incontinence taboo and is campaigning for legislation to ensure sanitary bins are available in all male toilets.

Chiara de Biase, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, says: "Hundreds of thousands of men in the UK live with incontinence, but the taboo surrounding it means these men often feel ashamed, stay silent, and don’t ask for help.

"At Prostate Cancer UK we’re campaigning to smash this taboo by getting the country talking about it, and to influence policy changes that ensure every man with incontinence has access to adequate facilities."

A new campaign is trying to break the stigma surrounding incontinence. (Getty Images)
A new campaign is trying to break the stigma surrounding incontinence. (Getty Images)

Nancy Sadler, senior brand manager at TENA, says: "We knew that there would be an element of people feeling self-conscious about their health issues when undertaking this study, but to hear how many men wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking about incontinence really shocked us.

"We’re determined to help people who experience incontinence, which is why our End Bladder Shame Campaign is so important. We’re committed to sharing real-life, authentic stories on the subject, creating a safe space for open conversation and, hopefully, ending any embarrassment that surrounds it."

My mental health has deteriorated a lot as a result of the incontinence

Carey Gibb, 61, a stone mason from Arbroath in Scotland is someone who has first-hand experience of how bladder incontinence can impact mental health.

Gibb was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2017 and, after his prostate was removed, suffered from incontinence. He went on to have treatment to tackle his persistent bladder problems.

"Some days it's better, but I am still struggling," Gibb explains. "Long walks are quite challenging, but it doesn't stop me.

"My mental health has deteriorated a lot as a result of the incontinence. I don't go out as much as I would like to, and if I go out, I don't drink a lot because I'm nervous of leaking. I also don't sleep very well, because I'm scared of wetting the bed, even though I wear a pad.

"This all sounds really negative, but I'm really open about my incontinence and I tell everyone about how it happened and encourage others to know their prostate cancer risk, speak to their GP, and consider their treatment options carefully because there are side effects to think about.

"This is a process I have to go through and it's a way of life now. There are many worse off than me, so I get on with things."

TENA's new campaign wants more sanitary bins for men in toilets. (Getty Images)
TENA's new campaign wants more sanitary bins for men in toilets. (Getty Images)

Male incontinence: The facts

In the UK, it is estimated about one in three men over 65 will experience urinary incontinence issues, while one in 20 men aged 60 and over will experience bowel incontinence.

According to Prostate Cancer UK one in eight men will get prostate cancer, and some experience bladder and bowel problems as a side effect of their treatment.

This is because prostate cancer treatment can damage the nerves and muscles that control when you urinate (wee).

If you’re starting treatment for prostate cancer, ask your doctor about the possible side effects. Each treatment can cause different urinary problems. Your chances of getting each side effect will depend on the treatment you’re having, and on whether or not you had urinary problems before starting treatment.

If you’ve already had prostate cancer treatment and you have urinary problems, tell your doctor or nurse. They can suggest treatments and lifestyle changes to help manage them.

Depending on the type of problems you’re having, ways to manage them can include lifestyle changes, pelvic floor muscle exercises, bladder retraining, medicines or surgery.

For practical tips read Prostate Cancer's How to manage urinary problems guide.

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