Are You Thinking About Adult Diapers for Urinary Incontinence?

Do you need them? Learn about your options
Woman shopping for adult diapers

Are you considering using undergarments for incontinence? If bladder leakage is affecting your quality of life, adult diapers can help you take control. But it’s a very personal decision, involving various factors.

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With a wide range of treatment options to cure urinary incontinence, female pelvic medicine specialist Cecile Ferrando, MD, doesn’t recommend adult undergarments for everyone. Many people avoid them altogether or use them only as a short-term solution, she says.

Here are a few things to think about if you’re considering them.

What kind of incontinence issues are you having?

  • Stress incontinence – Sneezing, coughing or exercising sometimes cause leakage because they put extra pressure on your bladder, and weakened or damaged muscles can’t cope.
  • Urge incontinence – As you age, you may develop a general inability to control the release of urine. You may sometimes have sudden urges to go to the bathroom, but you may not get there in time to avoid leakage.

Younger women sometimes have urinary leakage toward the end of pregnancy and for a time afterward. But more serious incontinence typically affects older adults. It occurs more often in women than in men — and some estimates show that nearly a third of women deal with urinary leakage after the age of 50.

It’s important to consider the severity of your issue, including how often you have leakage, in weighing whether to use adult diapers. Some people find they can handle minimal leakage with disposable pads. But if your condition is more severe, you’ll need to do more.

“It depends on how much it bothers you,” says Dr. Ferrando. “If you are soaking through clothes or regular hygiene pads, it might be time to consider adult diapers.”

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Many people seek help when they begin frequently feeling wet or can smell urine — when it affects their quality of life. Dr. Ferrando suggests exploring other options first. It’s important to discuss the causes of your incontinence and severity of the problem with your doctor to find the best solution(s).

What can you do to avoid leakage in the first place?

You can take steps to avoid using adult diapers — or lessen the time you’ll need them. Check with your doctor to learn more about treating urinary leakage. Here are some common ways to prevent it:

  • Take medication (as prescribed) to reduce overactive bladder.
  • Perform pelvic floor exercises regularly.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Be sure to regularly and fully empty your bladder.

Other ways to avoid leakage if problems are more bothersome include:

  • Outpatient procedures using Botox®, bulking injections or electrical stimulation.
  • Minimally invasive surgeries that help support or close the urethra (the tube that conducts urine from the bladder out of the body) to avoid leakage.

There are a lot of ways to treat incontinence, so Dr. Ferrando typically recommends adult diapers only for older patients who have exhausted these options.

“This is a last-ditch effort or adjunctive to treatment if they are continuing to leak,” she says.

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If adult diapers are the answer, how can you make the best of it?

If treatments don’t work for you, or if you are waiting for them to “kick in,” use these tips to boost your confidence and comfort when wearing adult diapers:

  • Change them regularly. To stay comfortable and odor-free, change them as soon as possible after leakage occurs.
  • Use a barrier ointment or lotion. This helps avoid skin changes that can occur from regular exposure to urine.
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. This helps lessen worry about others noticing what you’re wearing underneath.
  • Wear darker clothing if you’re going out. This can help hide any leaks that occur.

When is incontinence a sign of other, more serious problems?

Age-related incontinence is gradual and worsens slowly over time. Sudden incontinence with heavy leakage may mean something else is going on.

An infection sometimes causes incontinence. Or, if you have other medical problems as well, this can mean a larger neurological issue is at work. Have your doctor check these symptoms sooner, rather than later, Dr. Ferrando says.

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