Effects of stigma on Chinese women's attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence

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Abstract

Aims and objectives.

To examine whether and how stigma influences attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence, and whether its effect varies by symptom severity.

Background.

Urinary incontinence is prevalent among women, but few seek treatment. Negative attitudes towards urinary incontinence treatment inhibit from seeking care. Urinary incontinence is a stigmatised attribute. However, the relationship between stigma and attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence has not been well understood.

Design.

This was a cross-sectional community-based study.

Methods.

We enrolled a sample of 305 women aged 40–65 years with stress urinary incontinence from three communities in a Chinese city between May–October in 2011. Data were collected on socio-demographic characteristics, urinary incontinence symptoms, stigma and attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence using a self-reported questionnaire. Effects of stigma were analysed using path analysis.

Results.

Attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence were generally negative. For the total sample, all the stigma domains of social rejection, social isolation and internalised shame had direct negative effects on treatment-seeking attitudes. The public stigma domain of social rejection also indirectly affected treatment-seeking attitudes through increasing social isolation, as well as through increasing social isolation and then internalised shame. The final model accounted for 28% of the variance of treatment-seeking attitudes. Symptom severity influenced the strength of paths: the effect of internalised shame was higher in women with more severe urinary incontinence.

Conclusions.

Stigma enhances the formation of negative attitudes towards seeking treatment for urinary incontinence; public stigma affects treatment-seeking attitudes through internalisation of social messages.

Relevance to clinical practice.

Stigma reduction may help incontinent women to form positive treatment-seeking attitudes and engage them in treatment. Interventions should specifically target the self-stigma domains of social isolation and internalised shame in women with urinary incontinence to most efficiently increase their use of health care.

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