We’ve all seen the commercials. A man or a woman, usually grey-haired, laments about not being able to sit through a movie or play with their grandchildren because they have a problem, an overactive bladder. Many of these ads use some iteration of a water filled drainpipe or anthropomorphic bladder to “tastefully” show the issue these people are struggling with.

These depictions of overactive bladders, while most likely inadvertent, become laughable or easily mocked, like in one of SNL’s great fake commercials for adult diapers. The taboo nature of this ailment and the parodiable commercials makes it easy to become dismissive of the severity of urinary incontinence, despite it impacting 33 million Americans, according to the FDA.

Medical Ethicist Art Caplan joined Boston Public Radio to discuss the lack of research being conducted on urinary incontinence.

“There are lots of disorders, ailments, and problems that have all kinds of patient groups organized around them and people pressing for research and trying to bring their ailment and problem to the front of our attention. On that list, is not Incontinence. You are not going to see too many rallies for the incontinent. It is one of these stigmatized problems that inflicts a lot of people and we don’t really understand it all that well,” said Caplan.

In Men, overactive bladders can be caused by enlarged prostates pushing on the bladder. In women, giving birth may affect the ability to empty a full bladder, causing it to become overactive. While there are some known causes of urinary incontinence, doctors still do not know why the risk of overactive bladders increases old age.

“We don’t spend as much money on it. It’s not one of those things that is a priority for people and researchers, but it should be because it impacts a lot of people. It is a real problem. Look at the number of adult diapers that they’re selling at the big chain box stores. Listen to people talk shamefully about the fact that they can’t sit through a movie. It is a huge problem,” said Caplan.

Listen to our interview with medical ethicist Art Caplan above.