Over 33 million people in America experience urinary incontinence of some kind. That makes urinary incontinence quite common, especially for women–who experience these issues at twice the rate as men. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to accept the discomfort of urinary incontinence symptoms as natural or inevitable.
With the right treatments and therapies, urinary incontinence can often be managed so successfully that you’ll be able to leisurely enjoy your next family get together or take your time on a long hike through the park without a second thought.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Female urinary incontinence is usually defined as the temporary loss of bladder control or as a urinary leak. There are two common types of urinary incontinence:
- Stress Incontinence: When a sudden stress on your bladder causes momentary loss of control, that’s usually referred to as stress incontinence. This can occur with a laugh, a cough, during exercise, or during any number of other sudden body functions. Stress incontinence may become more pronounced with age or after having a baby.
- Urge Incontinence: When you feel a surprising and overwhelming urge to urinate, that’s usually referred to as urge incontinence. You may also feel the need to urinate more frequently or more spontaneously. Urge incontinence can develop for a wide variety of reasons, from infection to nerve damage to diabetes.
The two types of urinary incontinence are not mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible for women to experience both urge and stress incontinence. As a result, you may find yourself locating the restrooms when you enter a new restaurant or planning your morning job to follow a route with available public lavatories.
Often, symptoms can be relatively minor and easy to manage on your own. But it’s important to emphasize that there are treatments and therapies available that can provide significant relief should symptoms begin to impact your overall quality of life.
So if you’re experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence–even minor ones–talk to your OBGYN today about your options.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
There’s no single underlying cause for all types and forms of urinary incontinence. Temporary incontinence, for example, could be caused by something as simple as drinking a strong cup of coffee or having a few too many chili peppers in your stir fry. Persistent urinary incontinence, however, usually has a more significant cause. Some of those causes can include:
- Aging: As you age, your bladder may change. And those changes could lead to either stress incontinence or urge incontinence. In addition to physical changes, Menopause can lead to a decrease in the production of estrogen, a hormone that helps keep the bladder and urethra healthy. This can also lead to urinary incontinence.
- Pregnancy and childbirth: Both pregnancy and childbirth can have an exceptional impact on the bladder and urinary tract. Pregnancy can produce hormone changes that produce incontinence, while vaginal childbirth can weaken the muscles used for bladder control.
- Hysterectomy: Undergoing major surgery, such as a hysterectomy, can lead to an increase in urinary incontinence. That’s because the bladder is supported by muscles and ligaments of the uterus. In general, any surgery involving the reproductive system could create urinary incontinence. But those risks will change depending on the procedure in question.
- Obstructions: A growth or obstruction in the urinary tract can alter the normal course of urine through your body. This can trick your system into thinking that it has to urinate more frequently or more urgently. Urinary stones may also sometimes cause urinary incontinence.
- Tobacco use: While not necessarily a cause, per se, tobacco use can increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence.
- Diet: Your diet can also have an impact on your overall incontinence risk. Weight gain or being overweight have both been associated with an increased risk of developing urinary incontinence.
- Neurological issues: Urinary incontinence can be caused by neurological issues in a couple of different ways. Some diseases, such as diabetes, can directly damage nerve cells, which results in urinary incontinence. Other conditions, such as Parkinson’s, interfere with the signals transmitted between your brain and bladder, which results in the same general symptoms but from a completely different neurological process.
How is Urinary Incontinence Treated?
There are a wide variety of effective treatments, ranging from simple exercises to surgery. The best treatment option for you will depend on your symptoms, your medical history, and the root cause of your condition. If you just had a few too many cups of coffee, for example, your best treatment option will be to simply wait for the caffeine to run through your system!
However, for persistent urinary incontinence, you will have several options:
- Behavioral techniques and muscle exercises: There are several “at home” treatment options that have been shown to help manage urinary incontinence symptoms. One of the easiest options is to try some behavioral therapy. For example, you can train yourself to urinate at specific times of day (rather than waiting for the urge). Or you can try to wait ten minutes after the urge has struck to urinate. In terms of physical therapies, you could perform pelvic floor muscle exercises, also called kegel exercises, in order to attempt strengthening of the muscles that help control urination. You should consult with your OBGYN before engaging in any of these treatment options.
- Medications and intervention therapies: There are a wide variety of medications available to help treat urinary incontinence. Some of these medications are designed to calm an overactive bladder, while others are intended to keep your urinary tract health optimal by increasing your estrogen levels. Your OBGYN will be able to tell which medication is right for you. Likewise, other intervention therapies, such as botulinum toxin A injections or nerve stimulators can work for some women.
- Surgery and devices: In some cases, surgery may be required to correct certain types of urinary incontinence. The exact procedure used will depend on the root cause of your urinary incontinence. In lieu of surgery, some women may instead opt for the use of a medical device, such as a urethral insert–a tampon-like device that can be used to absorb stress-related incontinence.
For some women, a combination of therapies and treatments will provide the best results. For others, it may never completely dissipate. In those cases, devices such as catheters or absorbent pads can help you maintain your activity level and quality of life, even if your symptoms remain.
There are some ways you can attempt to prevent urinary incontinence from occurring in the first place:
- Eat a fiber rich diet
- Avoid the use of tobacco
- Regularly practice kegel or pelvic floor exercises
- Avoid food and beverage that can irritate the bladder (common examples include coffee or alcohol)
- Try to maintain a healthy weight
The Ability to Live Normally
No matter the cause of the urinary incontinence, most women who experience this condition have one simple goal: living their lives as normally as possible. Urinary incontinence can sometimes get in the way of that.
The good news is that the wide variety of effective treatment options means that you can usually find a successful way to keep your urinary incontinence symptoms in check. Most women, then, are able to quickly get back to their normal lives and routines. Urinary incontinence can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to stay that way and it’s not inevitable.
With the right approach, you can reassert control over your bladder and your life! If you have questions about urinary incontinence, contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices to schedule an appointment today.