Background: Although urinary incontinence (UI) is a common and costly problem, its prevalence and severity in ambulatory patients is not well established. The main objectives of this study were to define the prevalence and severity of urinary incontinence in adult men and women who came to a primary care office for health care, to determine if these patients had ever told a health care provider about this problem, and to determine if they would be interested in treatment if it were available and effective.
Methods: Men and women aged 20 years and over who came to family physicians' offices seeking health care for any reason during an 11-week period were the subjects of a survey by an anonymous questionnaire. Five family practice offices in UPRNet (the Upper Peninsula Research Network), a research network in Michigan, participated. We defined "current urinary incontinence" as any degree of incontinence in the past 12 months.
Results: Of the 2830 study participants, 33% had current urinary incontinence (95% confidence interval [CI] 31% to 35%). Incontinence was experienced by 11% of the men and 43% of the women. Urinary incontinence constituting a social or hygienic problem was reported by 5% of the men and 23% of the women (17% overall). Of those with current UI, 72% had not told a health care provider. Of the patients who had not told a physician, 37% said they would seek care if they knew tests and effective treatment were available.
Conclusions: Urinary incontinence is a common problem among those seen in primary care settings, and its presence is often not known to the health care provider.