What Causes Incontinence In Women?

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Incontinence is a condition that affects over 25 million men and women in America. It can really happen to anyone, and can be caused by many different things. But it is much more common in women – nearly twice as common actually – and unfortunately has become something that many people (even potentially your doctor) brush off as being a normal part of aging. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Why Is Incontinence More Prevalent In Women?

Incontinence can have many root causes.  Being overweight, problems with the prostate in men, and even conditions that cause damage to the nerves, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or even diabetes can all lead to incontinence.  But it’s no secret that women suffer from incontinence more than men. This is in part due to the fact that things like pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are unique to women and create extra pressure and complications that can cause incontinence. 

The pressure of carrying a baby for 9 months and the trauma of childbirth to the pelvic floor can weaken the pelvic floor, making it difficult to stay continent.  Additionally the hormonal changes that occur during menopause cause a change in continence.  A decrease in estrogen can cause the vaginal tissues to become less elastic and dry and can lead to incontinence and urinary tract infections.

What Types Of Incontinence Are There 

Did you know that there are actually different types of Incontinence? Depending on what you have, there may be different options available to you.

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is the frequent and urgent need to use the bathroom, accompanied by bladder leakage.  You may have a sudden feeling that you have to go to the bathroom right now, or it may be triggered by familiar things, such as arriving home, washing the dishes, etc. This type of condition may also exist without bladder leakage, and is then referred to as Overactive Bladder. 

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence happens when pressure is placed on the bladder and causes bladder leakage. This type of leakage might happen when you’re working out, or even when you sneeze or laugh. Unlike Urge incontinence, stress urinary incontinence is not typically accompanied by the sensation of a sudden urge to urinate. Rather, stress urinary incontinence is caused by a weakened pelvic floor, and/or a weak sphincter muscle.  Stress urinary incontinence often occurs in women (although men can have it too), and typically as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s a condition that can get worse as you get older, since we lose pelvic muscle tone as we age. Luckily, there are many treatment options available, and behavioral modifications, such as learning how to create a healthy pelvic floor, can do wonders for this type of incontinence.

Mixed Incontinence

As the name implies, many women can suffer from both Stress Urinary Incontinence, and Urge Incontinence, although one is typically more severe than others. Treatment options for mixed incontinence are typically the same as the treatments you would use for stress urinary incontinence, or urge incontinence.

What Are My Options?

Luckily, there are many treatment options available for the various types of incontinence women tend to have.  Below are just a few treatment options available.

Behavioral Modifications.

Often, simple changes to our lifestyle, including changes to our diet and exercise regimen, can ease a lot of the symptoms of incontinence in women.  Learning the foods and drinks that irritate the bladder, and knowing how to strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles can do a great deal to help reduce or even eliminate symptoms.

 Absorbents

Absorbent products come in all shapes and sizes and are a great option for those who need some extra protection. Read our guide to finding the right absorbent product for you.

 Medications

There are many types of medications available that can sooth an irritable bladder. These medications typically work by relaxing the muscles around the bladder, or stopping the signal to your bladder that you need to go right now!

Procedures

If medications and behavioral modification don’t work for you, there are several options that you may want to try before you think about surgery. Many women have seen success with botox injections into their bladder (it’s not just for wrinkles!), and different forms of neuromodulation, small pulses that stimulate the nerves involved in controlling the bladder.  Learn more about these options here.

Surgery

Finally surgery can be a good option for those who have tried other treatments without success. There are several types of surgical procedures, including urinary diversion, sling procedures, and augmentation cystoplasty, that can help with incontinence in women.

It’s important to note that no treatment is 100% effective all the type. Talk with your doctor about what you can expect with each treatment, as well as the pros and cons associated with them.

Urinary incontinence can have a big impact on a woman’s life and it’s important to get it treated.  Too many women live with symptoms of urinary incontinence, thinking it’s just a normal part of aging. But there are many treatments available and it can make life so much more enjoyable when you’re not looking for a bathroom or worried about having an accident. 

If you live with urinary incontinence, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about treatment options.  

Ask The Expert: Is Urinary Incontinence A Normal Part Of Aging?

Is Urinary Incontinence A Normal Part Of Aging?

Each month, we ask our expert panel to answer one of our reader's questions. To learn more about the NAFC Expert Panel, and how to submit your own question, see below.

Question: Is Urinary Incontinence A Normal Part Of Aging?

Answer: We get this question all the time, and suspect that many people believe this, even though it’s not really true. Here are the facts:

While incontinence should never be considered a normal occurrence, our chances of getting it do increase as we get older. Certain life events (childbirth, for example) can cause the muscles and tissues to weaken, and, over time can result in urinary incontinence. Other conditions can also play a role – neurological conditions such as MS or Parkinson’s Disease, being overweight, or prostate problems in men can all contribute to bladder leakage.

So, in a way, yes, as you get older, you may be more likely to experience urinary incontinence, but it’s typically a symptom of something else. And it most certainly can be treated. Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise (especially performing moves that increase the strength of the pelvic floor) can do wonders in improving symptoms of incontinence. And, if that doesn’t work, medications, minimally invasive procedures (like Botox injections or InterStim) or even surgery are all options for treating the issue.

The most important thing to take away is that having bladder leakage is not a lost cause. If you live with this symptom, find a doctor and talk about your options. Life’s too short to live with a condition that has so many options for treatment.

Are you an expert in incontinence care? Would you like to join the NAFC expert panel? Have a question you'd like answered? Contact us!

UTIs - What Causes Them And How To Avoid Them

UTIs - What Causes Them And How To Avoid Them

UTIs, or Urinary Tract Infections, will affect most women at some point in their lifetime.  UTI’s are recognized by the burning sensation they cause in the bladder or urethra (the tube that empties urine from the body) during urination, and the intense urge to urinate frequently – even if it is just a little amount.  Some women may also leak urine during a UTI, even if that isn’t something they normally experience.  Urine may also smell differently and appear cloudy or dark. 

UTI’s are not pleasant, but there are things you can do to prevent them.

The first thing you need to know is why UTIs happen.  UTIs are caused by the presence of bacteria in the urinary tract, which can then travel up to the bladder.  And, while the urinary tract does have several safe guards, which naturally help it to flush bacteria out, infections can still occur.  Infections are more common in women primarily due to their anatomy.  Bacteria from the bowel can easily sneak into the urethra because it is so close to the anus (This is why we wipe front to back people!), and women have much shorter urethras than men, which means bacteria can more easily get into the bladder.   Certain conditions can make people more prone to UTIs – those who wear catheters may be at an increased risk since it is harder to flush bacteria out of the urinary tract. And anyone who has trouble emptying his or her bladder completely can also be at risk.  Sex can also contribute to UTIs since it can introduce new bacteria to the urethral opening.

The good news is that most UTIs don’t last long once treated.  Since the main cause of a UTI is often the presence of bacteria, antibiotics are usually used to treat them, and take roughly 2-3 days to work.  Drinking lots of water and fluids can also quicken your recovery time, because it helps you to flush out the bacteria out of your system. 

Here are some tips to avoid UTIs altogether:

Wipe front to back.

Keeping the Urethra clean and avoiding contact with bacteria from the anus or bowel can help prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract in the first place.

Drink lots of fluids. 

Staying hydrated and drinking lots of water each day will help flush out any bacteria that may be present.

Urinate when you need to.

Holding urine in the bladder for longer than necessary only increases the chance that bacteria will multiply and cause an infection.

Urinate after having sex.

This helps get rid of any bacteria that may be lingering from intercourse.

If you do get a UTI, see a doctor right away for treatment. If left untreated, the bacteria can sometimes make its way to the kidneys and cause a more serious infection.