Urinary incontinence is a major health care concern, both in terms of the numbers of women who are suffering and with respect to societal costs and the impact on health care spending. Approximately 15 years ago, an international group reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 200 million people worldwide – 75%-80% of them women – were suffering from urinary incontinence (JAMA 1998;280:951-3).
Since then, a high prevalence of urinary incontinence has been documented in various studies and reports. Experts have estimated, for instance, that between 13 million and 25 million adult Americans experience transient or chronic symptoms, and that approximately half of these patients suffer from severe or bothersome symptoms. Again, the majority of these individuals are women.
Consumer-based research suggests that 25% of women over the age of 18 years experience episodes of urinary incontinence, according to prevalence data collected by the National Association for Continence. In 2001, 10% of women under the age of 65 years and 35% of women over 65 had symptoms of involuntary leakage, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of patients never discussed bladder health with their health care provider and on average, women wait over 6 years from symptom onset before a diagnosis is established. Moreover, the costs are significant; in 2001, the cost for urinary incontinence in the United States was $16.3 billion (Obstet. Gynecol. 2001;98:398-406).
There are four types of urinary incontinence – urge, stress, mixed, and overflow. Urge incontinence typically is accompanied by urgency. Stress incontinence occurs with the increased abdominal pressure that accompanies effort, exertion, laughing, coughing, and sneezing. Overflow incontinence generally involves continuous urinary loss and incomplete bladder emptying.
Over the next four installments of Master Class in Gynecologic Surgery, I have chosen to feature the workup and treatment of urinary incontinence. For our first installment, I have asked my former resident Dr. Sandra Culbertson, who is now a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, to share her knowledge of the optimal approach for evaluating urinary incontinence in the office. As she explains, it is critical to discern the uncomplicated cases of stress urinary incontinence from possibly complicated cases that require more assessment.
Dr. Miller is clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, immediate past president of the International Society for Gynecologic Endoscopy (ISGE), and a past president of the AAGL. He is a reproductive endocrinologist and minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon in private practice in Naperville, Ill., and Schaumburg, Ill.; the director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery and the director of the AAGL/SRS fellowship in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill.; and the medical editor of this column, Master Class. Dr. Miller had no relevant financial disclosures.