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Absorbent products for incontinence: ‘treatment effects’ and impact on quality of life


  • Kathryn Getliffe BSc, MSc, PhD, RN,

  • Mandy Fader BSc, PhD, RN,

  • Alan Cottenden MA, PhD, MIMMM, MIPEM, CEnG,

  • Katharine Jamieson Dip. in Clin. Nurs., RN,

  • Nicholas Green MSc, RN

Kathryn Getliffe
Professor of Nursing
School of Nursing and Midwifery
University of Southampton
Hants SO17 1BJ
Telephone: +44 238 059 7926


Abstract  Aim.  This study aimed to determine how the use and characteristics of absorbent products for incontinence impact on women's quality of life, and to examine the concept of ‘treatment effects’ in the context of pad use.

Method.  Key pad performance characteristics were identified from the literature and focus group work. Semi-structured interviews with 99 women with light incontinence were used to investigate the impact of pad use on women's quality of life, including both positive and negative ‘treatment effects’, and to rank pad characteristics by their importance.

Results.  Achieving effective and discrete containment of urine was the dominant factor impacting on women's lives. Sub-themes embraced physical effects, psychological impact and social functioning. The five pad characteristics ranked most important for day time use were: ‘to hold urine, to contain smell, to stay in place, discreteness, and comfort when wet. For night use discreteness was replaced by to keep skin dry’. High levels of reported anxiety were associated with perceived risk of poor pad performance, lack of discreteness and need for complex regimes for pad management.

Conclusion.  Insufficient attention has been paid to the balance between the beneficial and negative treatment effects of absorbent pads to date. Existing continence-related quality of life measures are not designed for conditions where change in symptoms is not an outcome measure. The study findings provide the basis for developing a more sensitive, patient-oriented, quality of life measure for pad-users which can aid product selection, new product development and inform future evaluative comparisons between products/products and treatments.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This paper illustrates the complex influence on quality of life caused by using absorbent pads to contain incontinence. It raises awareness of the importance of careful selection of the most appropriate pad for each individual to minimize unfavourable side effects, and the need for a new quality of life measure designed for pad-users.