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Woman with urinary incontinence

Are You Leaking? The Facts About Female Incontinence

It’s a common misconception that only women in later life have bladder control issues. But incontinence affects young women and women in their middle years, too. One of the most common times for the problem to begin is after the birth of your first child, regardless of your age. It can affect any woman at any stage of her life.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said in the USA upwards of 13 million people suffer from urinary incontinence. It can affect men but women are two times more likely to experience bladder problems. Their statistics suggest the problem is widespread, with up to 45% of women experiencing incontinence.

Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the retention and release of urine. It can be an embarrassing condition and have a negative impact on life quality, emotional well-being, and self-esteem, besides practical difficulties. But despite being common, it’s not “normal”. Urinary incontinence is a recognized medical condition and in most cases it’s treatable.

Four Kinds of Urinary Incontinence

The incontinence a woman suffers can differ between individuals. Bladder weakness may lead to a trickle from time-to-time or complete loss of control and full wetting. Medicine recognizes four types of incontinence:

  1. Incontinence Caused by Stress

Stress incontinence refers to physical rather than emotional or psychological stress. If you leak urine when you laugh or cough, for example, that is stress incontinence. Sneezing can also cause this kind of incontinence and any situation which outs sudden, unexpected pressure on your bladder.

Several factors may lead to a problem with stress incontinence. The strain placed on the pelvis and surrounding muscle tissues during pregnancy and labor is a common cause. If you play strenuous sports, you may put yourself at greater risk. Increased age and obesity are also common factors in the onset of stress incontinence.

  1. An Overactive Bladder

An “overactive bladder,” also known as urge incontinence, results from nervous spasms in the muscles surrounding the bladder and urinary tract. It’s typified by an urgent sensation of the need to urinate with little control over timing. Sensations may last only a few seconds before it’s too late. Urge incontinence is likely if you have a pre-existing medical condition such as a urinary tract infection, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.

  1. Mixed Incontinence

Many medics believe the distinctions between stress incontinence and urge incontinence are not as clear-cut as the textbooks might suggest. Mixed incontinence is widespread. If you have this condition, you show symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence. 

  1. Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence occurs when your bladder won’t empty during urination. It leads to a constant release of small amounts of urine. The condition may be due to your medication. It’s worth checking with your doctor to see if an alternative is available for you if you need to take medication. Diabetes and nervous disorders affecting muscle tissue may also contribute to the problem.

Lifestyle Changes Can Help You Cope

Women are often embarrassed about their incontinence and seek to cope with rather than cure the condition because they don’t want to talk about it. The first recourse is to use absorbent pads and hope the situation gets better on its own. But this solution is only temporary. It can also be uncomfortable and smelly, and it doesn’t address the underlying causes. Many women will also drink less fluid, which can lead to dehydration and fatigue. If you have incontinence issues, you should speak to your doctor about it as soon as possible to treat it.

Sign saying “SOS” with woman with urinary incontinence

How is Incontinence Treated?

Your doctor may recommend a range of treatment approaches based on the type and severity of your condition. Several treatments involve simple exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Others may need medication or surgical interventions.

  •  Muscle Training

A physiotherapist can teach you how to strengthen your muscles through exercises which target the pelvic area. Vaginal weights are small egg-shaped weights inserted into the vagina during exercise and are often effective.  Training your bladder muscles by releasing and holding urine at intervals when you go to the bathroom can help develop control. Relaxation techniques and electrostimulation, in which a vaginal probe delivers small shocks to the muscles, can all help.

  • Medication

If muscle training doesn’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe medicines known as anticholinergics. These drugs are effective but have side effects including a dry, sore mouth, and constipation. Application of a transdermal patch delivers slow-release doses, but in some patients, it causes itching and reddening skin.

  •  Surgery

While several hundred surgical interventions exist which help with incontinence, the difficulty lies in choosing the right one. Surgery is rarely necessary and is a last resort. Your doctor will recommend the options most suited to your condition and circumstances. She will also recommend a support group where you can discuss the experience and outcomes with other patients before you decide.

Female incontinence is a common problem. But it can be treated and resolved with minimal intervention. The sooner you seek diagnosis and treatment from a qualified doctor the more likely that you can treat the condition before you get to the stage where you need surgery. If you think you may be incontinent, don’t struggle to cope alone. You need not suffer from embarrassing and uncomfortable leakage. See your doctor as soon as you can.

Communicating with your practitioner

You are encouraged to make an appointment with your Primary Care Provider or OBGYN if you are bothered by any of the common symptoms above. You know your own body. Together with their medical knowledge, you can get the correct diagnosis and advice for the most effective management of your unique circumstances. The right doctor will be a partner in decision making and will make you feel heard, respected, and in control of your health.

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