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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: On behalf of the National Association for Continence (NAFC), formerly Help for Incontinent People, I would like to thank you for your interest and willingness to help your readers find the information and referrals they need to cope with bladder or bowel control problems. Because you have previously printed letters from our founder, Dr. Katherine Jeter, and former Sen. Bob Dole, more than 100,000 people contacted NAFC for help and information -- more than from any other single source.

We hope you will continue to encourage your readers to seek medical diagnosis and treatment for incontinence. We are still very concerned by how long people are waiting to seek help. Our 1996 membership survey showed that women wait an average of 3.4 years and men 1.8 years before seeing a health care professional. We still receive calls from people who have had this problem for 20 or more years, and their call to us is their first attempt to gain information or to seek help.

Incontinence is a medical condition with many causes. It affects more than 13 million Americans, of whom 85 percent are women. It robs many men and women of their independence and spoils the quality of life for countless others. Incontinence, whether partial or complete, temporary or continuing, is not normal. It is not a disease, it is not part of being a woman and it is not "just what happens" as you get older!

More and more new treatments are being successfully used for all types of incontinence. Dietary changes, bladder retraining, medications, pelvic muscle exercises, biofeedback, electrical stimulation, surgery, collagen implants or pelvic support devices have all been effective in getting people completely dry or, at least, back in control of their bladder habits. When a cure is not possible, selection of the best absorbent product or device and proper skin care will lessen the risk of irritating rashes or embarrassing "accidents."

Miss Van Buren, it is important that your readers expect help from their doctors and persist until they find a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of bladder control problems. Please let them know that NAFC is ready to provide information and referrals to anyone who needs them. -- LYNDA CHRISTISON, MPA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

DEAR MS. CHRISTISON: I was surprised to learn that an estimated one in four women ages 30 to 59 have experienced an episode of urinary incontinence, and that it occurs in children and young adults as well as the elderly. A broad range of conditions and disorders can cause the problem -- including birth defects, pelvic surgery, injuries to the pelvic region or spinal cord, neurological diseases, pregnancy, childbirth and degenerative changes associated with aging.

Readers who have experienced incontinence or are concerned about someone who has can request a basic packet of information by sending a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2 to NAFC, P.O. Box 8310, Spartanburg, S.C. 29305-8310.

Approximately 80 percent of those affected by urinary incontinence can be cured or improved.

DEAR ABBY: Several years ago, you published a quotation from Lord Chesterfield. In it, he gave his appraisal of sex. As I recall, it was hilarious. Can you find it and print it again, please? -- LONGTIME READER IN PHOENIX

DEAR READER: Here it is: Lord Chesterfield on sex: "The price is exorbitant, the pleasure is transitory, and the position is ridiculous."

CONFIDENTIAL TO A DEAR FRIEND: Happy birthday, Mimi (Mrs. Arthur) Groman, whose friendship I have cherished since our girlhood days. No one has ever had a more loyal friend.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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