35 million women in the US suffer from urinary incontinence most of whom experience stress or mixed incontinence. Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is the accidental urine leakage during extraneous action or movement. The risk of having incontinence increases in middle-aged women and those who are post-menopausal. It affects one out of three women over the age of 60, but it can happen to women of any age.
One in four women aged 20-54 experience occasional leakage from laughing, sneezing, or coughing. Actress Kate Winslow confessed her “less than glamorous condition” in DailyMail.Com UK in 2015. Many women openly praised her for coming forward and telling her story many women can relate to after childbirth.
What Causes Stress Incontinence?
SUI results from weakened pelvic floor muscles. If you experience leakage from any of the following activities, stress incontinence may be the cause:
- Having sex
- Heavy lifting
- Standing up quickly (from sitting or lying down)
What Exactly is Stress Incontinence?
Stress incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine during any strenuous activity, due to weakened pelvic floor muscles or sphincter muscle. Sudden pressure on the abdomen causes urine to leak from the bladder. You can leak any amount from a few drops to a whole stream.
Normally, the urethra stays closed until you are prepared to urinate; but when your pelvic floor is weakened, stretched, or damaged, leakage may occur. For some women, it happens only occasionally, but for others, depending on the fullness of their bladder or state of their pelvic floor, it may happen more frequently.
What are the Risk Factors?
There are several contributing factors that may result in weakened pelvic floor muscles, bladder or sphincter.
- Childbirth – Vaginal delivery may damage tissues and nerves, especially with multiple childbirths or use of forceps delivery. Stress incontinence may occur right after childbirth, or years later.
- Obesity, due to excess weight on the abdomen and pelvic areas
- Smoking, due to excessive coughing and bladder irritation from nicotine
- Pelvic surgery (such as a hysterectomy)
- Excessive alcohol or caffeine
- Menopause may cause pelvic floor muscles to weaken due to hormonal changes
SUI Complicates Your Life
If you’re experiencing SUI frequently doing normal activities, it may cause embarrassment or distress, disrupting your life.
SUI can affect:
- Your Work
- Physical activity
You may feel lonely and isolated because of your SUI, or you may feel anxious or depressed. You may stop exercising or playing sports, or even fear to leave the house. The stress of possible leakage can affect your daily life and relationships. But it doesn’t have to-you can manage and treat SUI.
You Don’t Have to Live with SUI
SUI is very treatable. Lifestyle changes may be all that you need to resolve your stress incontinence. Some may be easier than others, but all are meant to improve your quality of life.
- Panty-liners or pads specifically designed for incontinence may be a temporary remedy, but not a solution. At the least, they’ll provide peace of mind you won’t have an embarrassing accident.
- Quitting smoking will decrease your risks and may reduce SUI. Smoking can lead to excessive coughing, bladder irritation, and strain. It’s also linked to bladder cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity may be a cause of stress incontinence.
- Manage how much water you drink throughout the day.
- Control constipation by maintaining proper bowel function with a healthy high-fiber diet.
- Perform pelvic floor exercises (Kegel) to help strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor, bladder, uterus, and bowels. You can do Kegel exercises in the privacy of your home and they only take a few minutes each day. Learn how to properly perform Kegel exercises here.
If you’re tired of wearing pads, and you’ve tried everything including Kegel exercises, but you still experience leakage, it’s time to talk to your doctor. There are many treatment options available which you and your doctor can determine the best solutions.
- Bladder Training – Schedule the time you go to the bathroom starting with short intervals, like an hour, and then slowly increasing the time between visits. This strengthens the muscles resulting in fewer leaks.
- Pelvic Floor Muscle Training – Besides Kegel exercises, your doctor may recommend vaginal cones or physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor.
- Electrical stimulation can assist people unable to do Kegel exercises on their own with an electrical stimulator device that contracts the pelvic floor muscles.
- Estrogen replacement – As we age and go through menopause, our bodies produce less estrogen which can cause weakening of the pelvic muscles. Estrogen replacement therapies like pills, creams, or a skin patch may relieve SUI.
- Vaginal Pessary ring, when inserted into the vagina stops stress incontinence. It puts pressure on the urethra to reduce leakage. There are possible side effects including discharge and infections.
- Collagen injections are available to strengthen deteriorating muscles.
- Surgical options, like a urethral sling or artificial sphincter, may stop your SUI. Speak with your doctor about your surgical options and the possible risks and complications.