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Overview of Urinary Incontinence in Women

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary or unexpected release of urine. It can happen to both men and women but is more common in females. The amount of urine leaked can be small and occur rarely or it can become a daily problem that requires significant lifestyle changes. This condition can be very distressing and is often under reported while it is still quite treatable. It is highly recommended that you talk with your doctor if you feel that urine leakage is beginning to affect your quality of life.

It is important to understand that urinary incontinence is not a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying physical problem or medical condition. Occasional bouts of urine leakage can be caused by many things including alcohol consumption, over hydration, dehydration, caffeine intake, bladder irritation or as a side affect of medications. These temporary causes can be easily treated with behavioral changes. Minor medical conditions such as urinary tract infection and constipation can also cause incontinence. Simple pharmacological treatments can cure problems such as these.
When urinary incontinence becomes a persistent problem that will not abate, there are several conditions that might be the cause. Pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy, prostate surgery, bladder stones or cancer, and some neurological disorders can cause urine leakage. In addition, the process of aging can weaken pelvic floor muscles resulting in urinary incontinence. It is a good idea to have a physician diagnose the type incontinence you are experiencing so a treatment plan can be created and medical conditions can be treated.

There are several types of incontinence and knowing what type you are experiencing can help with the development of a treatment plan.

Stress Incontinence is the most common form of incontinence. It occurs when pressure on the bladder causes urine to leak out involuntarily. Simple actions such as coughing, sneezing, running or jumping will result in urine leakage. In most cases of stress incontinence the pelvic floor muscles are too weak to keep the bladder closed. This is often the result of childbirth, pregnancy and even aging.

Urge Incontinence is an overwhelming urge to urinate. Often the urge will be too powerful to resist or will occur too late to get to a toilet. Urge incontinence can be a result of nerve damage but it can also be caused by behavioral deficits.

Overflow Incontinence occurs mainly when the bladder is not fully emptied. This allows urine to dribble out, sometimes continuously. Again, nerve damage is a culprit but excessive weight gain and tight muscles can also contribute to leakage.
Functional Incontinence is an unfortunate situation where one is physically unable to get to the bathroom in time. It may be due to a broken button on your pants or be the result of a disabling deformity or other physical problem.

Often a patient will experience mixed incontinence and have several different symptoms over the course of treatment. It is important to remember that urinary incontinence is a very treatable condition. No one should be forced to wear adult diapers due to an inability to control their bladder. Even those with nerve damage can treat their incontinence and see good results.

When incontinence is caused by nerve damage patients should consider the options below before engaging in invasive medical treatments. All these remedies require the active participation of the patient in order for results to be achieved. And results won’t happen overnight. Like any medical treatment it can take 6-8 weeks before the results will become apparent.

When you experience stress incontinence, the muscles of the pelvic floor are weakened. Strengthening these muscles will improve the ability of the pelvic floor to hold the bladder closed resulting in less urine leakage. The easiest way to strengthen the pelvic floor is by doing Kegel contractions. Women are often encouraged to perform these contractions while pregnant to keep the pelvic floor strong. Ironically, doctors recommend these exercises but rarely instruct a woman how to do them correctly.

Kegel contractions involve contracting the pelvic floor muscles, holding and releasing the contraction. First, locate the muscles by stopping your urine flow. Do not perform your Kegels while on the toilet as this can increase incontinence. Instead once you have located the muscles to use, do the exercises after you have emptied your bladder. Contract and hold for a count of ten and release. Repeat this 10 times. Repeat this exercise two or three times a day. You can expect to see results in as little as 6 weeks!

If you are having trouble isolating the pelvic floor muscles you can purchase a device that will show you if you are performing a Kegel correctly. The Pelvic Floor Indicator is a small plastic device that is inserted in the vaginal canal. When you perform a Kegel, the external portion will move downward. This gives you visual feedback that your Kegel has been performed correctly.

If you feel the contractions alone are not building strength, there are additional options. Research has shown that resistance training builds muscle better than training without resistance. For exercising the pelvic floor, using resistance will increase the speed with which you see results. Products to provide this resistance are inexpensive and very effective. Vaginal weights are affordable and discrete. You can even use them while walking around your home. No more excuses for not getting your workout in. The PFX2 pelvic floor exerciser provides strength training with the soft silicone probe. You will be able to see the strength of your contraction on the gauge and note how you are progressing over time.

If you have been diagnosed with nerve damage or are experiencing overflow incontinence due to tight muscles, there are simple EMG machines that can help you with muscle training. For home use the U-Control is a great option. It provides feedback using LED lights and audio tones. It is as sensitive as the machines used in a clinical setting. If you require more information, the Myotrac Infinity series can be used with a computer so you can view your progress graphically. Both products will allow you to learn to relax tense muscles or to build strength when you cannot feel the contractions due the nerve damage.
Urinary incontinence can be life changing. However, you can take control of your incontinence and make that change a positive one. Understanding the causes of the problem will lead you to a solution. Whether your solution is as simple as doing Kegels daily or if you need extensive re-training using EMG machines, a solution is out there. All you have to lose is time.

Articles and content contained in LifeMatters are educational in nature and not intended for and should not be interpreted as medical advice or psychotherapy.