Guys, it’s just not true
Common Myths of Male Incontinence
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A guy walks into his doctor’s office and says, “Doc, I’m having a hard time controlling my bladder.” The doctor says, “Get off my new carpet.”
Sufferers obviously don’t find the jokes all that funny but – for one reason or another – many may end up getting duped by the myriad myths about urinary incontinence (UI).
Dr. Edward Matsumoto, a urologist at the McMaster Institute of Urology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., says he’s heard his fair share.
“It’s just part of aging, If I seek help, I’ll be put under the knife. This must be cancer. Maybe I can just drink cranberry juice. And here’s an often-heard exchange in my clinic: Husband, ‘I don’t have a problem.’ Wife, ‘Trust me, he has a problem. I’m the one washing his underwear.’”
- Here’s the one important fact among the myths: You don’t have to live with bladder control issues -
Urinary incontinence or a loss of bladder control, defined as involuntary leakage of urine, explains Dr. Matsumoto, can “range from a few drops in the underwear after voiding, to leakage with urgency or coughing,” and it can happen to the best of us. In fact, the Canadian Continence Foundation says about 3.3 million Canadians (or 10 per cent of the population) have some form of UI. They figure about 16 per cent of men over the age of 40 have symptoms. (Consider yourself lucky, guys – women experience UI twice as often as men.)
Bladder control issues often happen when muscles are either too active or too weak. If it’s the latter (and you have accidents when you sneeze or lift heavy objects, for example), you likely have “stress incontinence.”
If it’s the former (and you desperately have to pee even when there’s little urine in your bladder), it’s probably “urge incontinence,” a.k.a. overactive bladder.
No matter the type, there are ample falsehoods surrounding UI, and so many of them can be debunked by a simple visit to a urologist.
Myth No. 1: You’re not the man you used to be
One of the most common myths is that bladder control has to do with manliness. “Incontinence can certainly impact a man’s sense of virility from a psychological sense,” says Dr. Matsumoto. But physically, it’s not possible. “Virility is dependent upon the male hormone testosterone, which is produced by the testes. Thus, incontinence has little to do with virility.”
Myth No. 2: It’s just for old guys
Another popular one is about age – most think that bladder control is an issue only geezers deal with. While there’s a smidgen of truth to this, says Dr. Matsumoto, any man is at risk of UI. “Generally speaking, as a man ages, the rate of incontinence increases.
“The enlargement of the prostate (or benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) increases in prevalence, which can lead to post-void dribbling, urgency incontinence and something called overflow incontinence, where the bladder literally gives out from trying to provide enough pressure to overcome an enlarged prostate.”
Dr. Matsumoto adds that younger men can also suffer from UI – in this case, it can be a sign of underlying medical problems including diabetes (which leads to greater urine production and, in serious cases, diabetic cystopathy, where the bladder no longer works properly). It can also hint of a neurological issue, including spine and brain tumours (which may be benign), spinal cord compression and stroke.
Myth No. 3: It’s gotta be uncomfortable
Hygiene – or, more precisely, a lack of hygiene – is another myth that pops up. Some think men who suffer live in a constant state of wetness and uncleanliness. “There’s no question – incontinence will make a man feel damp or unclean,” Dr. Matsumoto says. One of the best ways to avoid this feeling is to use an incontinence protective product, such as TENA Men’s guards, shields or incontinence underwear. You feel dry and fresh because urine and any lingering odours are kept away from the body.
Myth No. 4: I’m the Only One
Then there are the many men who truly believe they’re the only ones who suffer from UI. Dr. Matsumoto confirms the statistics, and adds that in older male populations, the prevalence can hit 30 percent. The good news? “More often than not there is a solution. There are so many causes of UI that treatment will be dependent on the cause. For the most common problems – BPH and overactive bladder – medical therapy is available,” he says. Losing weight, keeping your bowels regular and quitting smoking can help you reduce bladder leakage, too.
Here’s the one important fact among the myths: You don’t have to live with bladder control issues – most of the time, UI can be reduced or even eliminated. “It’s so important for men to have their incontinence assessed by their physician and get a referral to a urologist. Get it looked after,” Dr. Matsumoto says. “Don’t feel you’re alone.”
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with Robinsons.