It is not uncommon for women to leak small amounts of urine from time to time. When the involuntary loss of urine becomes frequent or is enough to affect your daily living, it is called urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem, estimated to effect more than 13 million Americans and, in most cases, can be treated with success. A simple physical urinary incontinence evaluation, ultrasound, or bladder stress test can determine whether or not you truly have urinary incontinence.
While older women typically struggle with urinary incontinence more than younger women, millions of women of all ages experience urinary incontinence. Some women lose just a few drops of urine while laughing, coughing, or performing physical activity. Others may feel a sudden, strong urge to urinate just before losing large amounts of urine.
If you think you may have urinary incontinence, it is important for you to know that you don’t have to live with it. Women wait an average of nine years to seek treatment, often because they say, “It’s not so bad”, or they fear treatment.
There are many possible causes of urinary incontinence. For example:
- Abnormalities of the tissues and organs in the urinary tract
- Hormone problems
- Nervous system problems
- Pelvic support problems
- Side effects of certain medications
- Overactive bladder (Urge incontinence)
Overactive Bladder (Urge Incontinence)
An overactive bladder means that your large bladder muscle has become unstable. If you suffer from an overactive bladder, you may have strong, sudden urges to go to the bathroom, even if your bladder contains little urine. You may find yourself going to the bathroom more than eight times in a 24-hour period, and oftentimes at night. Many women with this condition find that they suffer from accidents since the urge to urinate is so strong.
Women suffer from stress incontinence when the muscles that support your urethra become weak. This weakness often occurs after pregnancy or menopause. When these muscles become weak, even the slightest amount of stress may cause a small amount of urine to pass. Activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, exercising or lifting can cause urine to escape. Stress urinary incontinence is not necessarily a natural part of the aging process. It affects women of all ages.
It is fairly common for someone to have symptoms of both stress incontinence and an overactive bladder. If you have mixed symptoms, each symptom needs to be treated separately. There is no single treatment for both conditions. There is a less common type of urine loss, known as overflow incontinence, which results from over distension of the bladder. This may be as a result of a neurological condition, medications or urine outflow obstruction.
There are a few urinary incontinence medications on the market today, though no one treatment works for every woman. One class of medication called anticholinergics is a muscle relaxer, which can prevent bladder spasms in some women.
Other treatments and possible cures of urinary incontinence are also available. A wide variety of treatments are available and the approach your physician takes will depend on the type of incontinence from which you suffer. Treatments include:
- Dietary and behavioral modifications
- Estrogen replacement therapy
- Kegel exercises