Loss of bladder control or urinary incontinence, is a frustrating problem for millions of people, most of them women. Incontinence isn’t dangerous, but it can wear you down. It can be stressful and depressing never knowing when and where an accidental leak may occur. Research shows that women with leaky bladders have lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression than women with healthy bladders. It doesn’t have to be that way. Incontinence can be managed or even reversed.
Why does urinary incontinence affect women more than men?
Unique health events in women, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, may affect the urinary tract and the surrounding muscles and nerves. The pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, urethra, and uterus may become weaker or damaged, causing urinary incontinence or leakage. Also, the female urethra is shorter than the male urethra so any weakness or damage to the urethra in a woman is more likely to cause urinary incontinence.
Types and causes of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence is not a disease by itself, it is a symptom of another health problem. The main symptom is peeing unexpectedly. Some people blame a small bladder for their frequent leaks but the real culprit is either weak muscles, nerve damage, infection, or medication side effects.
There are different types of incontinence and each has a unique set of symptoms.
Stress incontinence is when you leak urine when you sneeze, cough, laugh, jog, or lift something heavy. It is due to weakened pelvic floor muscles and tissues, caused by pregnancy, vaginal childbirth, being overweight, taking certain medications or having prostate surgery in men.
Urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder (OAB), is when you often have a sudden, strong urge to pee and can’t get to the bathroom in time. You may feel the sudden need to go eight or more times a day and more than once at night. You may find yourself running to the bathroom even when your bladder is almost empty or feel the sudden urge to go when you hear the sound of running water or sip a drink. It is more common in older men and women and characterized by an uncontrollable flow of urine. The sudden, overwhelming need to pee is caused by spasms of the bladder muscle due to nerve or muscle damage that can be caused by infection, stones or inflammation of the bladder. Certain medications and other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and stroke can also affect the nerves, leading to urge incontinence
Mixed incontinence is a combination stress and urge incontinence at the same time. It is more common in women.
Overflow incontinence is more common in men. You can’t empty your bladder completely, so you may leak urine once your bladder is full, causing extremely frequent urination and dribbling urine.
Functional incontinence is more common among the elderly and happens when a medical condition, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, keeps you from getting to the bathroom in time.
Tips to control urinary incontinence
With a little effort, you can overcome the challenges of a leaky bladder. It can be as easy as a few simple changes in your daily routine. For many people, these steps may make urinary incontinence go away entirely, or help leak less urine.
- Plan ahead the day before you go out. A little foresight can make living with urinary incontinence less stressful, for example know where the bathrooms are when you are out and try to go as often as possible, or if you know you always shop longer than you plan to, consider one of the many urinary incontinence products, such as panty liners or pads.
- Do Kegel exercises. If you’ve had a baby, chances are you’ve been told to do these exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles after birth. They also help prevent stress incontinence. Here’s how to do them:
- To get a feel for the muscles you’re targeting, squeeze the muscles that you use stop the stream of urine when you’re going to the bathroom.
- Hold the squeeze for a count of five, then relax for 5 seconds. That’s one rep..
- Aim for three sets of 10 reps per day.
N.B: Once you learn how to do Kegels by stopping your urine, don’t do this routinely. Stopping the flow of urine can lead to an infection.
- Train your bladder. You can help control an overactive bladder or urge incontinence by going to the bathroom at set times instead of waiting for the urge. By gradually increasing the time between bathroom trips your bladder learns to hold more urine before it signals the need to go again.
- Lose weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on your bladder and nearby muscles, which can lead to problems with bladder control.
- Limit your caffeine. Drinks with caffeine irritates your bladder and can cause it to fill quickly, making your incontinence worse.
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods, as they can irritate the bladder causing you to leak more.
- Drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day (but no more). Many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking fluids. However, limiting your fluid intake makes incontinence worse, because it reduces your bladder’s capacity and can also cause or worsen constipation.
- Quit smoking: smoking can lead to a chronic cough, which can stress the bladder and cause leaks.
- Avoid lifting which puts a strain on your pelvic floor muscles. When you do need to lift something, tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift.
- Treat constipation. straining to empty your bowels weakens your pelvic floor muscles and makes leakage worse.
Talk to Your Doctor
If the above tips don’t control your incontinence or if you have a medical condition. There are plenty of treatment options available according to the cause of your urinary incontinence.