Bladder and bowel problems are disruptive and can make leaving the house challenging.
Living with bladder or bowel problems can mean always planning the next bathroom stop. You’ll go before you leave the house, and then once you arrive at work. You know there’s one at the grocery store, but what about at the post office?
It’s called “bathroom mapping,” and it’s a common side effect that Dr. Jannah Thompson, a urologist in Michigan who specializes in urogynecology, sees in her patients with incontinence.
“If someone takes a trip every year, from here to Indiana, they know where every rest stop is on the way,” she said.
Incontinence is common
Bladder and bowel problems are disruptive, and they can make leaving the house intimidating due to the fear of having an accident in public, Thompson said.
“It impacts their quality of life,” Thompson said of her patients with incontinence. “They choose not to go places.”
Some patients are unwilling to risk an accident in public, especially if they’re unsure whether a bathroom will be available, she said. That fear holds people back from doing things they love to do. Activities like meeting a friend for dinner or catching a flight to visit grandchildren can seem too daunting. If symptoms are especially bad one day, a patient may cancel all plans until a good day surfaces, Thompson said.
Physical activity — especially outdoors — may be out of the question.
“In terms of exercise, they would definitely avoid going for a long walk away from home, because they find they’re having to run off into the woods,” Thompson said.
Bladder and bowel problems are common: One in every six people live with overactive bladder and one in 12 have reported symptoms of fecal incontinence. Incontinence is more common than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or breast cancer, and yet, it remains a stigmatized condition that people don’t want to talk about in the United States — even with their doctor.
There are options
Finding a doctor who will listen can be half the battle. Thompson takes an empathetic approach; she works in partnership with her patients to fully understand their symptoms and what behaviors may be intensifying them.
"The condition of Overactive Bladder is often caused by multiple things; therefore treatment needs to be multimodal," she said. "Patients have to do their part in managing symptoms by changing behaviors that they can control.”
With conservative lifestyle changes, many patients may find an improved quality of life — and the opportunity to return to activities they love, Thompson said.
Thompson said it’s important for people with incontinence to remember they have control.
“I think that's the goal of any of this – to improve quality of life,” Thompson said. “Improved quality of life is a different definition for everyone and the goal is to have it be a significant enough improvement that someone might feel more comfortable going on the plane, or leaving the house for two hours,” she said.
Learn more about various forms of incontinence and treatments here.