Aim: The aim was to describe the characteristics of young adult women who report urinary incontinence (UI), the types of UI they experience, the strategies they use or consider important for managing UI, and help-seeking behavior.
Methods: Data were from the 1989-1995 Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health cohort (n = 8457) at age 22 to 27 (in 2017). Descriptive statistics were used to summarize: characteristics of young women who experience UI; the types of UI they experience; which strategies women use to manage UI; perceptions of bladder control; and the proportion of women who seek help (and reasons why not). Prevalence ratios for UI according to sample characteristics were calculated using Poisson regression models.
Results: At age 22 to 27, 11% (n = 986) of young women reported UI in the past month. Compared with women who did not have UI, those reporting UI were 7 kg heavier on average and were more likely to be in the obese body mass index category, report high psychological distress, and have at least one child. Most women with UI reported mixed symptoms of UI (stress and urge), and used a combination of strategies to self-manage UI symptoms. Only one in five women had sought help or advice from a healthcare professional.
Conclusions: Obesity, parity, and high psychological distress are strong correlates of UI in young women. As the majority of women with UI do not seek help, the antenatal period may be a critical time for healthcare providers to identify those at risk, and encourage early prevention or effective management strategies. As physical activity is positively associated with better outcomes for obesity and psychological distress, there may also be concurrent improvements in UI if these issues are addressed.