Regular review

Management of urinary incontinence in women

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7272.1326 (Published 25 November 2000)
Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1326

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  1. Ranee Thakar, trainee in urogynaecology (bthakar@sghms.ac.uk),
  2. Stuart Stanton, professor
  1. Urogynaecology and Pelvic Floor Reconstruction, St George's Hospital, London SW17 0QT
  1. Correspondence to: R Thakar
  • Accepted 30 August 2000

Urinary incontinence is defined by the International Continence Society as an involuntary loss of urine that is objectively shown and a social and hygiene problem.1 Urinary incontinence not only causes considerable personal discomfort but is also of economic importance to the NHS, costing around £424m per annum.2 In a survey of 10 226 adults aged over 40, the prevalence of incontinence in women was reported as 20.2%.3

View this table:
Table 1

Prevalence of urinary incontinence

Fig 1

Classification of incontinence

Table 1 summarises the prevalence of urinary incontinence from a variety of studies.4 It is likely that about 3 million people are regularly incontinent in the United Kingdom, a prevalence of around 40 per 1000 adults.5

Incontinence can be broadly divided into genuine stress incontinence and an overactive bladder (detrusor instability) (fig 1). Bladder symptoms often do not correlate with the underlying diagnosis. Thus urge incontinence often but not always results from an overactive bladder. Emphasis must be placed on the management of urinary incontinence in primary care, as this is effective in both the short term and the long term and benefits secondary care by ensuring that only patients who cannot be managed in primary care are referred. 6 7 Urodynamic studies can be reserved for when conservative treatment has failed, surgery is intended, there are voiding difficulties, or a neuropathy is present.

Summary points

Urinary incontinence affects 20% of women over the age of 40

It affects the quality of life and causes a financial burden to the NHS

Emphasis must be placed on primary health care as many patients can be managed at this level, thus ensuring appropriate referral to hospital

The main causes of urinary incontinence are urethral sphincter incompetence and an overactive bladder

Urodynamic studies are reserved for when conservative treatment has failed, surgery is intended, or voiding …

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