• Although urinary incontinence is common and can have a substantial impact on an individual’s quality of life, few people seek help for this symptom.
• This paper examines a theoretical framework proposed by Shaw (1999) as a possible explanatory model for help-seeking and the impact of incontinence on a person’s quality of life.
• Although aetiology and symptom severity are important predictors of behaviour and impact of symptoms, they did not explain all the variation and so other predictors proposed by the model were explored.
• Appraisals of illness and coping resources were found to be important moderating factors between the experience of symptoms and subsequent behaviour and outcome in urinary incontinence.
• In the appraisal of symptoms, lack of knowledge of the causes and treatments of urinary incontinence can be a barrier to help-seeking and successful outcome. Other factors such as personality, group differences, and social support can contribute to the appraisal process.
• Areas for future research and implications for clinical practice are discussed.