The quality of life assessed by the Nottingham Health Profile Questionnaire was compared in a group of women (n = 120) suffering from urinary incontinence (age 75.4 +/- 1.9, range 65-84 years) and an age-matched representative sample of the total population (n = 313). There were no significant differences between the two groups of women in occurrence of other illnesses or social characteristics. Women suffering from urinary incontinence obtained higher scores in the domains of emotional disturbances (p < 0.05) and social isolation (p < 0.001) than women from the control group. When subdividing the incontinent women by type of incontinence it was found that women suffering from urge and mixed incontinence reported emotional disturbances (p < 0.05) more than women from the control group. There was, however, no difference within the domain of emotional disturbances between stress-incontinent women and the control group. Women suffering from urge incontinence reported more disturbance of sleep (p < 0.05) than the control group. Women suffering from all types of urinary incontinence (p < 0.05) were socially more isolated than those from the age-matched group of women from the total population. Urinary incontinence in women has a detrimental effect on their daily lives and causes them to avoid social contacts.