Urinary incontinence is never great – dampening your self-esteem, and your undies. Even in its mildest forms it can be inconvenient and embarrassing. It happens to women of all ages and walks of life, and surprisingly, it’s quite a normal thing to experience.
Leaking simply happens when your bladder, sphincter or pelvic floor can’t quite keep the urine in. This can be caused by a variety of things, but most often childbirth and menopause are the culprits. Talk to any mother you know and you’re bound to hear a story about unexpected wee.
Incontinence is NOT forever
That dreaded feeling of wetting yourself doesn’t have to be a permanent part of life. In fact, incontinence is often temporary. Tackling your condition with the right treatment is key, but to start you’ll need to know what kind of incontinence you have.
The four types of urinary incontinence
The four types of urinary incontinence all have different causes and symptoms.
Urge Incontinence is caused by an under or overactive bladder. Like the name suggests, it’s characterised by a sudden and urgent need to go to the bathroom. This can be caused by a miscommunication between the brain and the bladder, making you think your bladder is full when it’s not, and visa versa. This miscommunication can also cause bladder spasms that release large amounts of urine at once.
Stress Incontinence is the most common kind of incontinence, occurring when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened from outside influence like constant coughing or improper lifting. This means each time you strain yourself, a little bit of urine can leak out. This makes the idea of sneezing quite scary! Luckily, pelvic floor exercises are very effective at treating stress incontinence.
Overflow Incontinence occurs when your bladder is over-full. This can happen in cases where your bladder can’t contract properly, or there is a blockage in your urethra. The bladder can never really empty itself out properly, so it feels like you have a constant need to wee. It can also result in a continuous trickle of urine due to the pressure build-up.
Functional Incontinence relates to social, physical or emotional conditions that can inhibit the your ability to go to the toilet. Those that experience physical disability or communication issues are affected by functional incontinence. Examples include conditions such as dementia, arthritis and motor neurone disease.
Diagnosing the types of urinary incontinence
It’s not always obvious which type of urinary incontinence you have, so your doctor may ask you to diary detailing information like how much fluid you’re taking in, how often you go to the toilet, and how often your bladder lets you down. Other methods include a urinalysis to check for urinary tract infections, residual urine checks (including ultrasound or a catheter) and possibly a cystoscopy if necessary.
You might be able to manage your urinary incontinence without much effort or help, especially if your symptoms are mild. If the symptoms are severe, or there’s blood in your urine, it’s a good idea to see your GP for a referral. If incontinence is causing you anxiety or depression, there is help out there. If you’re feeling bad about your work life, social life or sex life, take some time out to talk to someone about it – professional or otherwise. You’re worth it.
Urinary incontinence risk factors
Because urinary incontinence can be caused by neurological or physical factors, there are a lot of things that can cause it. But there’s no need to live your life in fear of risking a urine leak. Many risk factors are avoidable if you simply make sensible life choices. The only exception is pregnancy and aging – unfortunately even the most perfect pregnancy can result in mild stress incontinence, while aging is a just simple fact of life.
Risk factors for urinary incontinence include:
- Obesity is a proven link to urinary incontinence. The extra weight puts additional pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor, causing them to be under excess pressure, and leaking.
- Smoking indirectly increases the chances of incontinence, since because smokers often have a chronic cough. This puts constant, everyday stress the bladder and surrounding muscles.
- Diet choices are indirectly connected to urinary incontinence. This is because constipation puts pressure on the bladder and sphincter muscles.
- Excessive alcohol consumption can cause the muscles around your bladder to relax and springing a leak is more likely when this happens.
- Hysterectomies and other surgeries on the pelvis area can potentially inhibit or damage the functionality of the bladder.
- STDs can indirectly result in urinary incontinence by causing UTIs that irritate the urethra and bladder.
- Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause tend to bring on incontinence in a significant proportion of women. Pregnancy incontinence can happen immediately after the birth, or even years later when you reach menopause.
- Aging is a risk factor because the urethra and bladder lose muscle elasticity with age.
Treating urinary incontinence
A simple, healthy lifestyle will often be enough to protect you from urinary incontinence. But sometimes life can get out of hand, and things can come up. If you need to treat urinary incontinence, many of the options are also great for heart, brain and bodily health in general.
Of course, there are also incontinence specific options too. What you need will depend on your circumstances.
- Cutting down on excessive alcohol or caffeine.
- Constipation prevention through good diet, exercise and avoiding straining during bowel movements.
- Weight loss in the case of obesity.
- Pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises can be performed to strengthen the muscles surrounding the bladder.
- Strengthening the bladder and urethra by delaying the time between feeling the urge to urinate and actually going to the loo.
- Creating a timetable whereby you go to the bathroom at set times during the day, as opposed to waiting for the urge to occur.
- Medication, corrective devices and surgery – although these treatments are usually reserved for advanced cases.
Living with urinary incontinence
Poise products make living with urinary incontinence more comfortable. They’re discreet, protective and designed with comfort and absorbency in mind.
Once you’ve spoken to your doctor and found the right routine you’ll be on your way to fixing unwanted leakage. Often, a simple exercise routine involving pelvic floor squeezes is the perfect remedy for improving your condition, while Poise’s products go to work keeping your confident, radiant, and dry.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health care professional with any questions regarding your concerns.