Prevalence and severity of undiagnosed urinary incontinence in women

Am J Med. 2009 Nov;122(11):1037-42. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.05.016.


Background: Urinary incontinence is a highly prevalent condition in aging women that results in significant morbidity. Less than half of women who suffer from urinary incontinence seek treatment, resulting in a significant proportion of clinically relevant urinary incontinence remaining undiagnosed. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to quantify the prevalence of urinary incontinence in undiagnosed women in a managed care population.

Methods: There were 136,457 women aged 25-80 years enrolled in Kaiser Permanente Northwest who were free of genitourinary diagnoses, including urinary incontinence, who were included in this study. Of the 2118 women who were mailed questionnaires ascertaining information on demographic and urinary incontinence characteristics, 875 completed the survey. A chart review of the 234 women who reported moderate to severe urinary incontinence was performed.

Results: The prevalence of undiagnosed urinary incontinence was 53% in the preceding year, and 39% in the preceding week. The prevalence of undiagnosed stress, mixed, and urge incontinence was found to be 18.7%, 12.0%, and 6.8%, respectively. Quality of life was found to significantly decrease with increasing urinary incontinence severity. Of the 234 chart-reviewed women, 5% were found to have physician-documented urinary incontinence.

Conclusions: These results suggest that a significant proportion of women in this managed care population are suffering from urinary incontinence that remains undiagnosed. Efforts should be made to encourage women and physicians to initiate conversations about urinary incontinence symptoms in order to decrease the unnecessary burden of this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Oregon / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urinary Incontinence / diagnosis
  • Urinary Incontinence / epidemiology*
  • Urinary Incontinence / physiopathology
  • Urodynamics / physiology*