An embarrassing situation

An Embarrassing Situation

When you have COPD and become short of breath, you may feel the urgency to go to the bathroom or experience incontinence. It affects many of us with COPD and due to the shame and embarrassment that many sufferers feel, it is under-discussed – leading many COPD sufferers to think that they are the only ones with the problem. COPDers with incontinence have a poorer mental state than those without incontinence. The fear of embarrassment from losing control prevents COPDer from enjoying many aspects of life and feel alienated from others. Incontinence is an involuntary operation of the body and shouldn’t be seen as unacceptable or embarrassing behavior.

I’ve dealt with it first hand.

I know first hand what it feels like the first time your shortness of breath causes you to lose control of your bladder in public. In my early years with COPD I was like many of you who are new to COPD are: unaware incontinence is a consequence of having severe COPD. I will never forget how embarrassed and ashamed I felt at the checkout counter in Walmart, and the look on the faces of the people around me. I was so SOB, I was already the object of everyone’s stares, and losing control of my bladder and standing in a puddle of my own urine, my pants soaked made me want to die. I learned two things that day: 1, when shopping in Walmart, always use a ride-around cart and 2, when I go out to always wear adult underwear. I was also present when my deceased husband (also a severe COPD sufferer), lost control of both his bladder and bowels in front of his sister’s house after a visit. My husband was mortified, he had a hard enough time dealing with SOB and wearing oxygen in public after that incident of incontinence (other than to go to the doctor), my husband never left the house again. If you have advanced COPD, when you become SOB, avoiding incontinence is almost impossible. It is also one of the reasons many severe COPD sufferers become housebound. Being unable to control your bodily functions at home is embarrassing enough. To lose full control of your bladder and/or bowels in public mortifying.


Incontinence is the medical term for the inability to hold your urine or bowel movements long enough to get to a restroom. When you experience extreme shortness of breath, your body goes into “survival mode”. When your oxygen level is dangerously low, the body starts shutting down and conserving oxygen for the most vital organs. In survival mode, oxygen is diverted away from organs like the bladder and bowel (as they are not necessary for survival), to the parts of our bodies that keep us alive: heart, brain, and lungs. This is an automatic physical response, this is the reason why you will feel a sudden need to urinate or defecate. Just as shortness of breath is a way of life with COPD, eventually so is incontinence. If you have mild COPD you may experience light/infrequent incontinence, from every day thing not just being short of breath. Thing like laughing, sneezing, coughing, climbing stairs, and other physical activity, but, you may be able to prevent it from happening. If you are or have had a problem with incontinence, talk to your doctors about it.

It’s normal to feel embarrassed.

Feeling embarrassed is understandable when losing control of our bladders or bowels, as well as unpleasant, uncomfortable, and very inconvenient, however, take heart, there are solutions for dealing with incontinence.

Wherever you go out shopping, running errands, to a restaurant, your doctor, or visiting, keep a lookout for restrooms in the general vicinity. If you know you will be leaving the house, don’t drink anything and only eat a very light snack. If your mouth gets dry take a small sips of water or suck on a piece of hard candy. Keeping little to no food or liquids in your body will help prevent an accident when becoming SOB. Make sure to visit your bathroom and try to empty your bladder and bowels before leaving the house. When you’re out shopping, if you are going to eat out, try to do so just before you’re ready to go home, instead of when you first go out. I also suggest you use some kind of protective pad for underwear, if you don’t wish to do so then you should also bring along a change of clothes just in case.

Here’s what has helped me.

What many refer to sarcastically as adult diapers became, and to this day are, one of my best friends. I wear adult underwear any time I step foot out my front door, and if I’m having a bad day in my house too. I don’t want any mishap on my furniture, or when my family or friend are visiting. When you have end-stage COPD incontinence becomes a regular occurrence. Whenever I go out I not only wear protective underwear, I also carry an extra pair and some feminine wipes with me. I keep them in a small zippered bag, if I lose control and pee my pants, as soon as I can I go to a restroom, clean up, and I’m good to go again. The best part is no one knows what has occurred but me, no embarrassment, no weird looks. I know a lot of people refuse to wear adult underwear, they feel there is a stigma attached. In their minds wearing adult underwear is undignified, unmanly or un-womanly. Don’t become one of them, there are all types of products for dealing with incontinence.

Since I do my own shopping and travel often, I find adult disposable underwear the best alternative for me. However if you do not feel comfortable wearing the disposable underwear there are disposable pads, reusable underwear with shields built into undergarments to prevent you outerwear from getting wet or soil. These products are available for both men and women and when worn are virtually undetectable. Check the Internet to find the right one for you. To those with COPD: you may not be able to control incontinence, but, please don’t let fear of incontinence control you. Prevent the unpleasantness of incontinence at home or out in the world. Just put your adult underwear on, and you’re good to go. Breathe deep and easy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (42)
  • Kini
    4 months ago

    I feel much better after reading this article. I do the same things, I take an extra Depends with me and baby wipes in a plastic baggie. I’ve figured out what works and now they have pretty Depends that look like underwear. Im perfectly comfortable now

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi Kini and thanks for following up and letting us know what you thought about this article by the late Mary Utes, a valued contributor to our website. Her articles still capture our readers and she ‘lives on’ through them and us! Glad to hear this was helpful for you, Kini, and you’ve found what works so well for you. Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

  • lovinggrandma
    8 months ago

    Thank you for this article. I never had this problem before and it humiliated me so much I’m afraid to go anywhere now…so I really have some brain readjusting to do. I might have severe copd, but I want to keep some dignity!!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi again, lovinggrandma – it’s our pleasure. We saw your post earlier and referred you to this article. Glad to hear you found it to be helpful.
    Warmly,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Lynne S
    1 year ago

    Such an awesome article! I lost control of my bladder for the first time last September, while in the hospital with a severe exacerbation. Just thought my timing was off. I really just did not realize how sick I was. Thank you so much for clarifying the incontinence issues.

  • Mary Ultes author
    1 year ago

    Glad to be of help Lynne. Breathe deep & easy

  • TracyCarnahan
    1 year ago

    This is a great article Mary, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.
    All 2nd stage COPDers should be given this information. It should be shared far and wide.

  • Mary Ultes author
    1 year ago

    i’m glad I could help you Tracy. Many COPDers don’t know that incontinence in a big part of COPD in the later stages or when they get SOB. Breathe deep & easy

  • Ponyboy
    1 year ago

    Just wanted to say that today I received my first purchase of male incontinence products, having ordered them several days ago via Amazon, and I am very pleased with them. They are the Protechdry male y-front briefs, fitted, washable, and are primarily for light incontinence rather than to be used overnight – think going out for a few hours for errands or shopping. They are comfortable and virtually undetectable – I tried them on under Levi’s, khakis, long nylon rugby shorts, and pajamas – and i honestly could not tell there was anything different about them from my regular briefs. I do want to mention that they are extremely well-fitted; in fact, since I’m going to be ordering more, I think I may go up a size. I i bought one washable pair for 16.99 so I could try them out before purchasing a pack of 10 and before trying the disposable ones. I’m really glad to have them! Hopefully this review will be helpful to someone else!

  • Mary Ultes author
    1 year ago

    Glad you found the male incontinence products works well for you, & your review of them will be of help to other. Now that you the freedom to get out & about without fear of any embarrassing situations. Breathe deep & easy

  • Mary Ultes author
    1 year ago

    You’re are welcome Ponyboy, glad I have eased your mind. Urinary incontinence is just one more part of COPD we have to learn to deal with. Wearing adult briefs is a big help as you no longer have to worry about feeling embarrassed or that you are dying & concentrate on getting your breath & freedom to get out back. God Bless, & ease the effects COPD has on your body. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • Ponyboy
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, Mary 🙂

  • Ponyboy
    1 year ago

    Thank you so much for writing this, Mary. I experience urinary incontinence when extremely SOB, and lighter episodes when coughing or laughing. I thought I was the only one; in fact, I thought it meant I was dying because I know elimination procedures shut down when someone is on their way out. I don’t wish it on anyone, but I have to say I am relieved to know it’s not just me and that it’s part of the disease.

    I just spent the last month and a half in and out of the hospital due to acute respiratory failure from the COPD, and this last one was the worst – 6 episodes of incontinence really close to one another until the ambulance showed up, then one in the ambulance. I too have become afraid to leave the house or try to attend social events with this as a primary reason. I will try adult briefs and follow some of your other situations like keeping wet wipes with me to clean up. Again, thank you so much for this!

  • garymont
    1 year ago

    personally, i experience severe need to go when sob but have not experienced actual incontinence yet. using a puff of albuterol seems to help alleviate the situation.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    That sounds good for you, garymont. Your shortness of breath may not be as far advanced as others who have experienced the incontinence. You probably have it a bit more under control and that’s a good thing. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the community.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • BobU
    2 years ago

    None, I repeat, NONE, of the Drs. I have seen at the Pulmonary Clinic at the Phoenix VA over the last 5 years told me about this. I had to figure it out on my own and had my suspicions verified by some legitimate medical websites.

    As a matter of fact, when I brought this up at my last two visits ( with 2 different Drs ), they BOTH acted surprised, like it was the first time they’d heard this. One asked me where i heard this, implying that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

    Looks like the medical profession needs some schooling.

  • Ponyboy
    1 year ago

    BobU, thank you for sharing that. I read this prior to my last hospitalization, and none of the doctors had ever heard of this as a problem. I was really surprised, and they totally dismissed my concern when I told them I read about it online.

    I appreciate you posting that. I wish the doctors had known about it or had at least been willing to listen. Meh.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    We hear you, BobU. As you can tell from this article and the comments, you are certainly NOT alone. It’s always a bit frustrating when the physicians we rely on for treatment, advice and guidance, do not seem to be as well versed in some of the more seemingly common aspects of the disease as the patient.
    Hang in there – and thanks for your comment!
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Paula
    2 years ago

    I’ve pretty much given up on the pads – they move around too much – so I’ll just stay with my Depends all the time. Some days one will last 24 hours; other days I’ll need 3 or more pair; and if they shift around as I change positions in my chair, it’s ok because the absorption is so much bigger than that of a pad.

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Hi Paula, I only use the Depends type protection now too. Like you I have to use more then one many days & the pads are not good enough. Glad you found what works for you. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • molly
    2 years ago

    You have given me hope….. it has only happened twice, and at home, but it
    does make you want to stay at home…. my husband is a person on the go, but so
    understanding…. said he would go buy the depends for me….l had to laugh…. but thank you so very much ,your article really made me realize l am not alone…molly

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Hi Molly, almost all COPDers have this problem. They like you are just not a wear that it is a common thing with COPD & with the help of adult underwear there no need to be housebound. I love it when someone tell me they have the support of their love ones. You got a good man there. So get out there & enjoy, just remember to take an extra pair with you so if you have an accident when out you’ll be prepared & won’t have to cut your outing short. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • lynn2u
    2 years ago

    Even my pulmonlogist didn’t know about this one, when I asked. Calming the anxiety and fear, and being a user or adult underwear when I know I might get stressed as well as experiencing shortness of breath from my severe COPD , has helped me increase my ability to make it to the bathroom. Thanks for the article Mary! Keep breathing deeply, and slowly!

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Hi Lynn, I found out a long time ago there are many thing we COPDers go through that pulmonologist & respiratory therapist are unaware of. That’s why we have to help each other by passing along to others what we as long time, severe COPDers have learned from experience. Breathe deep & easy, Mary.

  • Janet Plank
    2 years ago

    Mary, this was a much needed article for so many. Thank you for sharing!

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    You’re welcome Janet, always glad to share what I learned over the many years I’ve had COPD. Breathe deep & easy

  • Paula
    2 years ago

    I used the pads for quite a while, day and night, and then began to move too much during the night so the pad slipped just enough out of alignment that I ended up wetting the bed. I went to the pull-ups then but didn’t like the brand I chose because that brand seems to not comprehend anatomy in that you need a wider coverage in the back than across the front. I kept looking and found one that fits perfectly, front and back, and pull up all the way to my waist. They may be expensive but they work and sure keep the upholstered furniture and carpeting clean and not smelling so I wear them every single day, going out or staying in.

  • leedee
    6 months ago

    Which one are you using plz

  • WandaT
    1 year ago

    Paula, do you mind telling us what brand you switched to? I’ve worried about which brands to try when the need arises.

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    I use mine everyday too they give me a lot of peace of mine knowing I can do anything & go anywhere without worrying about having any embarrassment.
    Breathe deep & easy

  • 1952@ JumJum
    2 years ago

    Thank you for expaining through your article when we
    have COPD and SOB about our body shutting down, but not
    the urine and bowel. Reading this made very good sense.

    I am not in the lease embarrassed about me wearing adult
    protection pull ups! It has saved me many times when I
    am unable to reach the bathroom in time while I am out.
    I always an extra one with me no matter where I go and
    baby wipes me also.
    So thank you again for sharing your story and it will
    help so many people out there and to let them know
    they are not alone.

  • Mary Ultes author
    2 years ago

    Glad you found my article helpful. To many COPDers feel embarrassed I’m glad you’re not one of them. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi leedee and thanks for your comment (below) about the acronym SOB. SOB stands for ‘shortness of breath’. I hope this answers your concern. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • leedee
    6 months ago

    This is first time I have read the comments and I am very greatful. I do have a question. What is SOB?

  • Stella9
    3 years ago

    Thank you for this article. Always good to know causes so we can learn how to be prepared. I find that when my bladder is full, I get shortness of breath. A pulmonologist said there is no physiological reason. I always thought it was more than just anxiety in trying to get to the bathroom in time.

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Stella, Losing bladder control is not physiological. There is a real cause that you lose control. When you get SOB it not only raises your anxiety level, but when you are not getting enough oxygen you brain diverts the oxygen you do have to the two most important organ, your heart & your brain. This loss of oxygen to organs like the bladder causes it to involuntary empty. Whenever you get very SOB you’ll feel the need to urinate, but as soon as your oxygen level get back to normal & oxygen is restored to the bladder you will no longer feel that urgent need to pee. Hope this help you understand what is happening & it is do to lack of oxygen not the anxiety also cause becoming short of breath.Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • lynn2u
    3 years ago

    Thank you Mary for this article and for your story. I am 74 years old not on any meds or oxygen , am controling my symptoms with diet exercise and yoga breathing and relaxation and walking and my worst symptom was the incontinence that I felt. I could not sort out how much was due to anxiety alone, a lifelong problem and how much was due to COPD and shortness of breath. Even the pulmonologist did not think it was the COPD. I have been using pads and adult active female underwear whenever I think I need to be protected. I wish everyone would do this and enjoy walks, social events and an active lifestyle as much as you and I do. Needless to say I also admire your continued pursuit of the good life in spite of the doctor’s fatalistic and erroneous threats.

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lynn, although I take meds. I help to control my COPD with a good diet & staying as active as I can. I’m always glad to here from someone that does not need meds or oxygen, can still live an active lifestyle & doesn’t let their COPD get the better of them.Bravo! Lynn, keep going strong. Breat
    he deep & easy, Mary

  • LindaM
    3 years ago

    Thanks Mary ~ I have been using pads and have consider adult underwear. Now I will move forward and start using it when I go out. I can see that it will help my confidence and that alone is worth using it! Thanks again for a great share.

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Linda, adult underwear is great. The types & styles that are available these day are wonderful & no one can tell you are wearing them. Wearing adult underwear gives me the confidence to go anywhere for as long as I want with no worry of an embarrassing mishap. Glad to be of help. Breathe deep & easy, Mary

  • nellie
    3 years ago

    Bless you for your courage.have tried to cope with this for years and not once was the link to severe c.o.p.d mentioned.l do carry AIDS however very housebound and incontinence plays a big factor in this situation.even at home if l lift or bend …l wet myself.l will certainly be more confident in fighting my corner,l have a g.p. appointment on Friday and a hospital app on 8th Feb.l will be discussing with both “experts”
    Thank you for this information?l will post their replies
    Sending you a hug. Helen

  • Mary Ultes author
    3 years ago

    Hi Nellie, glad I could be of help. A lot of DRs don’t know that incontinence is triggered by COPD & being short of breath. Most pulmonologists are aware, but a lot of COPDers are to embarrassed to talk to their DRs about it. I have the same thing happen to me at home, but I won’t let it make me housebound. Breathe deep & easy hugs, Mary

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