brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2019;99(7):459

Clinical Question

Should women be screened for symptoms of urinary incontinence?

Bottom Line

The goal of screening is to identify a disorder before it becomes symptomatic if early treatment has the potential for greater benefit than waiting until symptoms are reported. Despite the failure to meet this definition, this guideline suggests annual screening of women for urinary incontinence and the effect, if any, on their lives. This guideline development group has too much investment in the recommendations to be credible, especially given the lack of evidence. (Level of Evidence = 5)


This guideline comes from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative, a collaboration between the U.S. government and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with input from several other professional societies whose members care for women. Seeming to step on the sensible shoes of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the stated goal of this group is to assure that women receive a comprehensive set of preventive services that are paid for by the government ( This is already an inherent conflict of interest, so let us dig a little deeper. The authors performed a systematic review, finding no studies that evaluated the effectiveness of screening on improving symptoms, quality of life, or function. The strength of the evidence that supports the accuracy of screening methods is low. There is no research into the adverse effects of screening. The strength of the evidence that supports treatments for incontinence is low to moderate, and there is no evidence that suggests early detection results in better outcomes. Yet, the group has decided that clinicians should use a validated assessment instrument annually for all women to determine whether they have incontinence and whether it affects their health, function, or quality of life.

Study design: Practice guideline

Funding source: Government

Setting: Outpatient (any)

Reference: O'Reilly N, Nelson HD, Conry JM, et al.; Women's Preventive Services Initiative. Screening for urinary incontinence in women: a recommendation from the Women's Preventive Services Initiative. Ann Intern Med. 2018;169(5):320–328.

Editor's Note: Dr. Shaughnessy is an Assistant Medical Editor for AFP

POEMs (patient-oriented evidence that matters) are provided by Essential Evidence Plus, a point-of-care clinical decision support system published by Wiley-Blackwell. For more information, see Copyright Wiley-Blackwell. Used with permission.

For definitions of levels of evidence used in POEMs, see

To subscribe to a free podcast of these and other POEMs that appear in AFP, search in iTunes for “POEM of the Week” or go to

This series is coordinated by Natasha J. Pyzocha, DO, contributing editor.

A collection of POEMs published in AFP is available at

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2019 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.