Urinary incontinence is a women’s problem, right? Not by a long shot! Men account for about 15% of the 13 million Americans who suffer from some degree of urinary incontinence.

When this annoying problem affects a man, it commonly comes in a form known as stress incontinence. With this condition, urine leaks when a man coughs, laughs, lifts something heavy or exerts himself during exercise. Men who have undergone prostate removal (prostatectomy) for prostate cancer are at increased risk.

Rates of stress incontinence following removal of a diseased prostate can be as low as 4% or as high as 42%. When a man is affected, it can dramatically impact his quality of life and increase his risk for depression. While some improvement comes with time, any residual incontinence left after a year is unlikely to go away on its own.

Considering the negative consequences of urinary incontinence, urologists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas wanted to find out just how long men tolerate the problem. The researchers’ analysis focused on men who were evaluated by a urologic surgeon to determine how much time passed before they sought surgical treatment for their stress incontinence.

Study results: Most men put up with the problem for a median of more than two years, while one-third of them waited more than five years. Interestingly, younger men tended to wait less, but some men in their 80s waited a median of more than seven years before seeking anti-incontinence surgery.

A useful test for men: As part of this study, researchers recommended that both primary care doctors and urologists use a “standing cough test” as a simple, noninvasive method to determine the severity of a man’s stress incontinence following prostate surgery. With this test, a man is asked to cough while standing. If he loses urine, he is suffering from stress incontinence. If he has minimal leakage, a surgically implanted “sling” procedure may be considered…if the leakage is more severe, he may need to replace his sphincter muscle with an artificial sphincter. The cough test is believed to be more reliable than asking a man how many incontinence pads he uses each day.

Bottom line: It’s understandable that men would not rush into another operation quickly after prostatectomy, but if they are bothered by incontinence past the 12-month mark, it’s time to talk with their urologist about possible surgical options.

When urinary incontinence is surgically treated, 73% to 90% of men report greater satisfaction and quality of life.

For those who are interested in trying nonsurgical approaches, read more here.