Let's face it—it's hard to talk about personal and intimate concerns, even with a trusted doctor. We still have hang-ups about using the correct terms for body parts and normal bodily functions. But there's an effective public service slogan that reminds us about the importance of diagnostic screenings that may be unpleasant (often more to talk about than to actually have done): Don't die of embarrassment.
There are many reasons to tell your doctor that you are experiencing incontinence. The most important one is that it can be a symptom of a serious health problem, one that needs treatment. Don't tell yourself that incontinence is simply part of getting older. Yes, it occurs more frequently as we age, but it's not an inevitable sign of aging like getting gray hair.
Another reason to bring up incontinence is that many causes can be corrected. Some of the least invasive techniques involve retraining when and how often you use the bathroom—developing certain patterns and toileting habits may help. At the other end of the intervention spectrum, urologists and urologic surgeons are hard at work to find solutions for the most challenging causes. So never assume that your condition can't be helped.
Of course, you need to take that giant step from deciding to talk to your doctor to actually voicing your situation. If your doctor brings up the topic (as all doctors should), simply state what's happening to you. Keeping a log with the dates, times and other facts about your incontinence will help your doctor assess the problem. Try to start your recordkeeping one to two weeks before your appointment and don't forget to bring it with you.
Even better is to ensure that your doctor initiate the conversation for you. Here's your icebreaker: When you're updating medical forms at the start of your visit, write down that you are experiencing incontinence—this will prompt the doctor to bring up the subject. Some medical practices have implemented communicating via email; this is one time when the impersonal nature of an email is a benefit, removing all the emotional aspects from the subject. Just type out what you're experiencing.
Though talking about incontinence will be a first for you, chances are that this is not the first time your doctor has had a patient with the problem. Remind yourself of this.
Still feeling skittish? If you are a woman, you might find it easier to talk to your ob-gyn than your primary physician. Another option for either sex is to start off by seeing a urologist. You might feel more comfortable with this doctor who specializes in incontinence issues and treatments. If you see your primary first, he or she may need to give you a referral to this specialist for treatment anyway. (Your insurance coverage will determine if you have to get the referral from your primary or can make the appointment directly.)
The bottom line is that you have many options for asking for help. Pick one of them.