Urinary incontinence is the medical term used to describe the accidental loss of urine. It plagues over 25 million adults in the United States every year and can be both chronic and temporary. (1) Urinary incontinence affects twice as many women as men and becomes more common as you age. (2) In this article, we’ll explore what you need to know about urinary incontinence in women.
CAUSES OF URINARY INCONTINENCE
One of the reasons that many health professionals believe urinary incontinence affects more women is due to pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. (2) All of these life events change a woman’s hormones, put excess strain on the body, and have a direct impact on the urinary tract system. With the fluctuation of hormones and added stress, a woman’s pelvic floor muscles are more likely to become weakened or damaged.2 Females also have a shorter urethra than men, so damages can cause incontinence more easily.
Urinary incontinence is not something that simply occurs as you age, even though it is more common in elderly women. Urinary incontinence is caused by a number of different changes in bodily function from things like disease, medication use, illness, and in women specifically, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
UNDERSTANDING PREGNANCY AND URINARY INCONTINENCE
Throughout pregnancy, your baby continues to grow. As he or she gets bigger, they start to push down on your bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor muscles. (2) Once this pressure starts, it’s pretty much constant until you deliver. Because of this, many pregnant women experience temporary urinary incontinence that goes away after they’ve healed from childbirth. (2) To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you can also incorporate Kegels into your everyday practice.
CHILDBIRTH AND URINARY INCONTINENCE
While pregnancy and the constant pressure of your developing child often cause incontinence, so does childbirth. The act of labor is very hard on your body and during vaginal birth, your pelvic floor weakens to assist in the delivery of your baby. During this time, it is possible to damage the nerves that control your bladder. (2) This isn’t necessarily permanent damage, but it will need to time heal—usually about 6 weeks after childbirth. (2) If you still struggle with incontinence after this time, talk to your doctor.
MENOPAUSE AND URINARY INCONTINENCE
While more research is needed to definitively confirm, many researchers believe that low levels of estrogen can weaken the urethra. (2) Because of this, many post-menopausal women experience signs of urinary incontinence. If you’re going through menopause and are noticing incontinence problems, your doctor will be able to help you manage your symptoms.
URINARY INCONTINENCE AND UNDERLYING CONDITIONS
Another main reason that women show signs of urinary incontinence is due to underlying conditions. As you get older, your organs start to age, and your muscles weaken. If you’re healthy, however, this usually isn’t the sole cause of incontinence. In many instances, incontinence is due to conditions like diabetes, poor heart function, or declining kidney health. (3) Regardless of your age, it’s important to see your urologist regularly to make sure and understand what’s causing problems to occur.
SYMPTOMS OF URINARY INCONTINENCE IN WOMEN
As we said, if you notice any symptoms of urinary incontinence, see your doctor right away. There are plenty of treatment options available and it’s important to fully understand what’s causing your incontinence to create a successful treatment plan. Some of the most common signs of urinary incontinence in women include: (1)
- Needing to rush to a bathroom suddenly
- Losing urine if you don’t make it to the bathroom in time
- Urine leakage with movements or exercise
- Leakage of urine that prevents you from activities
- Leakage of urine after a surgery
- Urine leakage from coughing, sneezing or laughing
- Constant feeling of wetness
- The feeling of incomplete bladder emptying
COMMON TYPES OF URINARY INCONTINENCE IN WOMEN
There are five main types of urinary incontinence that occur in both men and women: stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence, or mixed incontinence—a combination of multiple types of incontinence. Among these five, three types of urinary incontinence affect women more disproportionately than any others: stress incontinence, urge incontinence, or a combination/mixture of the two.
Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence. (2) It affects both young women and older women and is caused by excess stress put on the bladder. Stress incontinence can occur if pelvic floor muscles are weakened and therefore added pressure sits on the bladder and urethra.2 Due to the added pressure, your bladder and urethra have to work harder to do their job which can therefore lead to incontinence problems. Stress incontinence is experienced most often in conjunction with common, everyday actions like coughing, sneezing, or even laughing.2 Some women experience stress incontinence due to sudden movement or physical activity.2 This can lead to embarrassing situations or accidents, but it can be treated.
Urge incontinence occurs after a strong or sudden urge to urinate, but before you have time to reach a restroom. (2) While it is possible to make it to the bathroom in time, the urge is so sudden and intense that many find it to be a very disrupting occurrence. It can happen at any moment, both awake and asleep. With urge incontinence, women often feel the need to urinate over eight times per day, regardless of liquid intake. (2) Many people refer to urge incontinence as overactive bladder.
Many women who experience urinary incontinence have symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence, which can be even more disruptive to daily life.
TREATMENT FOR URINARY INCONTINENCE IN WOMEN
Luckily, there are a number of different treatment options for urinary incontinence in women. Some of the treatment options include lifestyle changes while more serious cases might call for surgery, but each person is different. To better understand what’s going on in your body, your urologist will need to first get a proper diagnosis.
Following your diagnosis, you will work with your urologist to create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs. Most often, your doctor will recommend starting first with lifestyle changes to try and manage your symptoms. Some of these changes include performing kegel exercises regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and cutting out caffeine or alcohol—both of which are bladder irritants. During this time, you will also learn how to train your bladder and your doctor will recommend cutting back on liquids prior to going to bed. If you want to avoid any accidents during this time, consider looking into protective underwear or women’s urinary incontinence products that can help catch any leaks.
In addition to Kegels, there are additional pelvic muscle rehabilitation techniques that your doctor might recommend. Biofeedback can help you perfect your Kegels and then you can move on to vaginal weight training to take things a step further. (1) Some doctors may also discuss pelvic floor electrical stimulation with you as an option.
If strength training and lifestyle changes don’t work on their own, there are certain medications that you can try. If your incontinence is due to menopause or hormone issues, your doctor will likely prescribe a vaginal estrogen to help. (1) Always talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have when discussing your treatment options.
There are a few office procedures that can be tried if any combination of the above isn’t relieving symptoms. Some common office procedures include botox injections into the bladder, urethral bulking agents, and peripheral nerve stimulation. (1) If these fail to help, talk to your doctor about your options for surgical solutions. There are a few things that have been shown to help with incontinence, but surgery should only be considered as a last resort. Bladder surgery is serious, so make sure that you know all of the risks and potential complications before moving forward. If you have any questions about urinary incontinence in women or any of the treatment options, always speak directly to your doctor.
If you’re experiencing urinary incontinence as a woman, there are ways to get relief. By making small changes, to your lifestyle and following a unique treatment plan, you can reduce the likelihood of leakage. If you have any symptoms of other urologic problems, call your doctor immediately. If you need any urological supplies or additional educational resources, visit our educational support page or our product selection guide. Byram Healthcare is proud to offer full-service urological care and we have all the high-quality urological supplies that you need. All of your orders can be discreetly delivered to your home, at any time of the day. If you’re looking for personalized, confidential services, our teams of knowledgeable urological customer service specialists are here to help.