Urinary incontinence is common, but many women feel embarrassed to talk about their difficulties with bladder control. However, as there are simple lifestyle changes and medications available, speaking to us at The Women’s Clinic could give you more confidence and help you return to an active lifestyle.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. This can vary from small, occasional leakages of urine to frequently emptying your bladder before making it to the toilet on time. The condition is thought to affect as many as 17-25 million Americans and 85% of people affected by urinary incontinence are women.
Although urinary incontinence often affects women following childbirth or as they get older, it doesn’t have to be something you put up with forever. If incontinence is preventing you from doing the activities you love, causing embarrassment, or limiting your quality of life, now is the time to seek advice.
What are the Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence?
Women with urinary incontinence pass urine without meaning to.
Urinary incontinence can range from occasionally having slightly wet underwear to frequently leaking or completely emptying your bladder before you are ready.
There are several types of urinary incontinence in women:
This is sometimes known as ‘key in the lock’ incontinence. Urine leaks out as you have a sudden, desperate urge to pass urine. This may be when you have just arrived home and struggle to open the front door in time, or when you are in the bathroom but are unable to make it to the toilet in time. Some women find that it occurs if they hear the sound of running water.
Urine leakage occurs when the bladder is put under pressure or you are straining. This could be when coughing, laughing, or running. Stress incontinence may be more common if the pelvic floor muscles have been stretched due to pregnancy, vaginal childbirth, weight gain, or a sports injury.
With this condition, also known as chronic urinary retention, the bladder is unable to completely empty. This is more common in men, but can occur in women affected by conditions including bladder stones or nerve damage. The bladder does not completely empty, and so leakages of urine occur regularly.
The bladder is unable to store any urine. This means that there can be constant urine leakage. Total incontinence occurs due to spinal cord injuries, congenital bladder problems, or bladder fistulae.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
The most common types of urinary incontinence in women are stress and urge incontinence.
If you have ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you have probably experienced a sense of urinary urgency where you feel the “urge” to go, but when you get to the toilet you find there is little or no urine to pass. Urgency is one of the most common symptoms of a UTI.
Urinary tract infections are more common as we get older, and they’re also more common in women. If you develop bladder urgency, don’t delay seeing a doctor. If your urgency is caused by an infection, you can start treatment to quickly resolve your symptoms.
Urge incontinence can also be caused by spasms of the bladder muscles. Spasms are related to muscle or nerve damage, diabetes, or following a stroke. Various treatments are available for this type of incontinence.
Stress incontinence causes unexpected leakage. This type of incontinence is one of the most common conditions affecting bladder control in young women. Some women find that stress incontinence occurs after pregnancy or childbirth.
Women with stress incontinence leak urine when laughing, coughing, sneezing, or exercising. This can feel embarrassing and may affect your self-esteem. Research shows that women with incontinence are more likely to suffer from depression, and tend to avoid sex or intimacy. Women with stress incontinence tend to be socially isolated due to the worry associated with having an episode of incontinence in public.
Diagnosis of Urinary Incontinence
Seeing a doctor is the first step to taking control of urinary incontinence. A doctor at The Women’s Clinic will listen to your history and concerns and then check a urine sample. This helps to rule out a urinary tract infection as the cause of your symptoms.
Your doctor will also try to understand your pattern of urinary incontinence by asking you to keep a diary of what you drink, how much urine you pass, and any episodes of urine leakage.
Urodynamic testing may be required to diagnose the type of incontinence. These tests will assess the pressure in the bladder, the flow of your urine, and whether there is any change in the function of your bladder or nerves.
A pelvic floor assessment may also be required to determine whether stress incontinence is likely.
Your doctor will talk you through every investigation so that you understand what it involves, and why it is necessary. By identifying the type of incontinence, a treatment plan can be established to effectively treat the cause.
Treatment Options for Urinary Incontinence
Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will discuss treatment options.
Bladder training can be helpful for women with stress or urge incontinence. Keeping a diary helps you to recognize patterns in order to avoid leaks. Gradually lengthening the time between trips to the toilet can also be used to train your bladder to hold urine for longer periods of time.
Women with stress incontinence can benefit from strengthening their pelvic floor muscles either through Kegel exercises or pelvic floor physiotherapy. If you have experienced a prolapse of your pelvic floor, a vaginal pessary may be advised to reduce the risk of stress incontinence.
Urge incontinence is sometimes treated with medications that relax the muscles in the bladder. This prevents the bladder from squeezing before you are ready to pass urine. Botox injections can also help.
Sometimes, women with incontinence can benefit from surgical procedures.
Your doctor will discuss the options with you so that you can make an informed choice about the right treatment for you.
Whilst you are treating the cause of urinary incontinence, you may wish to purchase products such as incontinence pads, pants, or protective bedding. These won’t treat the cause of the incontinence, but they do help to reduce anxiety about leaks. This may help to boost your self-esteem until any treatment begins to work.
For More Information
To make an appointment to discuss concerns about urinary incontinence with a doctor at The Women’s Clinic in Little Rock, request an appointment online or call us on (501) 664-4131.