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Self-Reported Social and Emotional Impact of Urinary Incontinence


Address correspondence to Nancy H. Fultz, PhD, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, PO Box 1248, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248.


OBJECTIVE: Incontinence-specific and generic measures of well-being were regressed on potential predictors to identify incontinent respondents at risk for psychosocial distress and to understand the relationship between urinary incontinence (UI) and other determinants of social and emotional status.

DESIGN: Survey data were collected May 1994 through April 1996.

SETTING: Telephone interviews as a supplement to a nationally representative monthly consumer survey.

PARTICIPANTS: Analyses were based on 1,116 continent and 206 incontinent respondents age 40 and older.

MEASUREMENTS: Incontinent respondents self-reported the extent to which urine loss restricted social activities or affected their feelings about themselves. All respondents were asked whether they felt depressed, lonely, or sad. Covariates included sex, age, race, education, social desirability, health status, frequency of urine loss, quantity of loss, and urgency.

RESULTS: The majority of incontinent respondents reported that urine loss did not restrict activities or diminish self-esteem. Incontinent respondents who were younger, male, less educated, lower in social desirability, in poorer health, or losing greater quantities of urine were more likely to report psychosocial distress, although these correlates were not consistently significant. Compared with continent respondents, significantly higher percentages of incontinent respondents reported feeling depressed, lonely, or sad. In the multivariate models, incontinence retained an independent association with loneliness, but not with sadness or depression.

CONCLUSION: Even though the direct psychosocial impact of urine loss may be minor in many cases, UI is associated with a constellation of physical and behavioral factors that can impose a social and emotional burden. This suggests that UI cannot be adequately evaluated or treated without consideration of the patient's overall quality of life.