Background: Urinary incontinence is a common problem but, for those experiencing significant clinical symptoms, help seeking has been reported to be as low as 20%. As many of these people could be helped by simple interventions, there is a clear need to identify barriers to help seeking and develop interventions to overcome these barriers.
Objectives: This study explores help-seeking behaviour in people with urinary symptoms such as leakage, frequency, nocturia and urgency in order to identify barriers to service use.
Method: Thirty-one people who either had agreed to treatment as part of an intervention study or who were receiving treatment at a hospital out-patient clinic for their urinary problems took part in unstructured, taped interviews. Respondents were questioned about their views on help seeking for urinary problems and their personal experiences of consultations. The data were transcribed, coded and thematic analysis carried out.
Results: The most common theme to emerge was a lack of knowledge of the condition and of available treatments. Urinary symptoms frequently were considered a normal part of ageing or childbirth, or it was felt that these types of symptoms were inappropriate for medical intervention. Older people were not only more likely to accept symptoms but were also less likely to want to bother their GP. Patients did not always communicate their concerns about urinary symptoms to their GP, through either embarrassment or misconceptions of what is a 'medical problem'.
Conclusions: There is a clear need for health education and health promotion in this area. Future work should explore professionals' knowledge and views of these types of conditions with the aim of providing guidelines for management in primary care.