The greatest taboo: urinary incontinence as a source of shame and embarrassment

Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2011 Oct;123(19-20):607-10. doi: 10.1007/s00508-011-0013-0. Epub 2011 Sep 22.


Introduction: While urinary incontinence is often labeled as a taboo in the literature, we found no scientific data addressing this issue exclusively. The aim of our study was to measure the perception of urinary incontinence as a taboo and how this compares to other medical conditions that may be embarrassing.

Methods: 150 test persons completed a self-administered 13-item questionnaire about perception and knowledge of urinary incontinence. Data were analysed with the SPSS 10.0.5 software package using the U-test, Chi-square-test, Yates-correction, Fisher's exact test and Kolmogorov-Smirnov test.

Results: Eighty-six (60.6%) of 142 respondents thought that urinary incontinence constituted a taboo in Austria. To be incontinent was considered significantly more embarrassing than depression or cancer, respectively (p = 0.001).

Conclusion: Despite its high prevalence, urinary incontinence is still considered a taboo in up to 60% of our Austrian test persons. The level of shame and embarrassment of urinary incontinence is significantly higher than that of depression and cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Austria / epidemiology
  • Data Collection
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Shame*
  • Taboo / psychology*
  • Urinary Incontinence / epidemiology
  • Urinary Incontinence / psychology*
  • Young Adult