Many women suffer with the discomfort and embarrassment of urinary incontinence. Often, women suffer needlessly in silence because they feel too shy or awkward to mention it.
The truth is, an estimated 45% of women experience some form of urinary incontinence at some point in their lives. That is almost half of all women! It is a very big deal. Urinary incontinence can negatively affect physical and emotional wellbeing. For example, women may avoid going out because they are worried about having an accident away from home. Other problems include sexual dysfunction and depression.
We usually think of two main categories of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence: Leaking of urine with coughing, sneezing, sex, or impact exercise, like running and jumping. This is related to damaged and/or weak pelvic floor muscles.
- Urge incontinence: Sudden and unpredictable overwhelming urge to urinate, with the leaking of small to large amounts of urine. This sometimes also goes along with needing to go often that can occur day and night.
The most common form of incontinence, called “mixed”, has features of both these categories. But the kind of incontinence really doesn’t matter. What women need to know is that there are solutions!
First, talk to a healthcare provider: There are readily identifiable medical factors that can cause or worsen incontinence. Certain medications, uncontrolled diabetes, bladder infections, constipation, and menopausal changes are just a few.
Pelvic floor exercises and physiotherapy: Those pelvic floor squeezes can really work! They are not difficult, but it’s important to do them correctly. Believe it or not, formal pelvic floor physiotherapy with a trained Women’s Health physiotherapist can hugely help. The physio will take a full history and then assess anatomy, muscle control, and strength, and then outline a guided exercise program. Once patients get over their initial hesitation, they almost always see a benefit.
Hold off on medication or surgery: Many women don’t realise that lifestyle changes and physical therapies are the preferred first-line method of treatment.
Watch the fluid intake: Limit bladder-irritating beverages such as caffeinated or acidic drinks (alcohol, coffee, black tea, green tea, and soft drinks). For women who make nighttime trips to the bathroom, decreasing fluid intake in the evening (especially alcohol) can help.
Exercise: The more physically active a woman is, the less likely she is to suffer from urinary incontinence. This may be related to better core and pelvic floor muscle tone in women with increased fitness.