Background: Incontinence is a common and embarrassing problem which has a profound effect on social and psychological well-being. Many people wear absorbent products to contain urine leakage and protect their clothes. It can be difficult to define light urinary incontinence because urine volumes, flow and frequency rates may vary substantially whilst still being considered 'light'. Light incontinence may encompass occasional (monthly) leaks of very small amounts (e.g. 1 g to 2 g) up to frequent leaks (several times per day) of larger amounts (e.g. 20 g to 50 g). A practical definition is urine loss that can be contained within a small absorbent pad (typically 50 g to 500 g; ISO 1996).
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of different types of absorbent product designs for women with light urinary incontinence.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group Specialised Trials Register (3 May 2006) and the reference lists of relevant articles were perused.
Selection criteria: TYPES OF STUDIES: All randomised or quasi-randomised trials of absorbent products for women with light urinary incontinence.
Types of participants: Women with light urinary incontinence. TYPES OF INTERVENTION: Absorbent products (disposable insert pads, menstrual pads, washable pants with integral pad, washable insert pads) suitable for light incontinence.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors assessed the methodological quality of potentially eligible studies and independently extracted data from the included trial.
Main results: One study with 85 participants met the selection criteria. This trial studied all the absorbent product designs included in this review. Data were presented on all included outcomes. For preventing leakage, for preference and for overall acceptability disposable insert pads are better than disposable menstrual pads which are better than washable pants with integral pad which are better than washable insert pads. There is no strong evidence that either disposables or washables are better for skin health. The disposable insert is the most expensive design and there is no dominant design for cost-effectiveness. There is evidence that some women will prefer alternative designs which are all cheaper than disposable inserts.
Authors' conclusions: Although data were available from only one eligible trial the data were sufficiently robust to make recommendations for practice. Disposable insert pads are typically more effective than the other designs considered. However, because they are the most expensive, providing choice of designs (or combinations of designs for different circumstances) is likely to be cost-effective.