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How to talk to your doctor about bladder leakage

Medical & health articles 16 May 2024
How to talk to your doctor

A little bit of wee comes out when I cough or laugh – that’s normal … isn’t it?

It can be tempting to think accidental leaks are part of getting older or being a woman. After all, our bladders can go through a lot in one lifetime. But no matter your age or what your bladder’s been through, experts generally agree that leaking isn’t normal and can be treated.

Ahead, we look at seven ways to get the most out of your doctor’s appointments, with tips and tricks to get past any embarrassment and get some much-needed relief.

Don’t shrug it off

According to Jean Hailes pelvic floor physiotherapist Amy Steventon, many women don’t seek help for bladder leakage because they think it’s no big deal and it’ll improve on its own.

Bladder leakage is another name for urinary incontinence. It affects 38% of women in Australia, compared to 10% of men. After childbirth, around one in three women experience bladder leakage.

Bladder issues are also common around pregnancy and menopause when women don’t have much time to make their health a priority, she adds.

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A group of women in an exercise class

But Ms Steventon says that without the right treatment, “it will potentially get worse”. So if you’re experiencing any leakage, the key is not to ignore it.

Fight the embarrassment

This is a big one, according to Jean Hailes urogynaecologist Dr Payam Nikpoor. “Having the confidence to talk about bladder problems is a major issue.”

So how do you tackle it?

Dr Nikpoor says finding a GP you feel comfortable with and giving yourself time to build trust can make a huge difference. So can taking a support person with you to your appointments, he adds.

Do some research

When Ms Steventon first meets her patients, around half aren’t aware that pelvic physiotherapy can help with incontinence. “There are still lots of GPs who don’t realise the benefit of physio either,” she says.

Visiting trusted websites can “empower women with knowledge before they get to the doctors”, she adds.

Keep a diary

Details about your leakage can be a gold mine of information for your doctor or health practitioner.

Ms Steventon recommends you record your accidents (and near accidents) and share your notes at your appointments.

Include details such as when you leak, what you’re doing when you leak and how much you leak. It could look something like this: Friday morning, sneezed, leaked less than a 50-cent coin.

You also might like to record what and how much you drink, and how often you go to the toilet during the day and night, Ms Steventon adds.

You are the most important person in the room during your appointments, so don’t be afraid to ask questions."

Ask questions

You are the most important person in the room during your appointments, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Dr Nikpoor recommends starting with: What is causing my bladder problems?

Ms Steventon also says it might be worth asking the following:

  1. Is a hormonal change or life stage playing a role? (Think pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause.)
  2. Can you help with my bladder problem, or do I need to see a specialist?
  3. What type of urinary incontinence do I have?
  4. Are there exercises that may make my incontinence worse or better?

Go beyond your bladder

To reach a diagnosis, it’s likely you’ll need a urine test (to rule out a bladder infection) and possibly a vaginal examination.

Beyond this, Dr Nikpoor says it’s important to discuss your health in general and how it may be impacting your bladder. Your doctor may ask you about your diet, alcohol intake, physical activity, weight, sleep and bowel health. You’ll also need to discuss potential lifestyle changes and treatment options.

“The more details you provide, the better the practitioner will be able to guide you in the right direction,” he says.

The more details you provide, the better the practitioner will be able to guide you in the right direction.”

Dr Nikpoor

Get the right advice

If you’re not getting what you want out of your appointments, Dr Nikpoor recommends seeing another doctor or health practitioner, ideally someone with an interest or further training in bladder issues. For help, try this directory of service providers on the Continence Foundation of Australia website.

To find a pelvic floor physiotherapist, go to the Find a physio webpage on the Australian Physiotherapy Association website. Under ‘Refine your search’ select ‘Special interest area: Women’s, Men’s and Pelvic health’.

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Last updated: 
12 June 2024
Last reviewed: 
06 May 2024