If you experience leakage every time you cough, laugh, sneeze or jump, you aren’t alone. Urinary incontinence is a common condition both men and women may experience, but most frequently affects women. The chance of developing incontinence increases with age, but is not an inevitable consequence of aging and is NEVER considered normal.
Michael Valley, MD, Urogynecologist, Western OB/GYN, A Division of Ridgeview Clinics, explains that many women find incontinence simply creeps up on them. “One day, they begin to experience a minor problem. A few years later, they find themselves crossing their legs every time they cough or laugh. They may have discontinued a favorite activity or exercise—such as running—because their leaky bladder became unmanageable. That’s the point when many women finally decide to seek advice from a medical provider,” Dr. Valley says. Those experiencing incontinence may find the condition isolating and embarrassing, but you are not alone.
On average, 1 in 4 women suffer with urinary incontinence.
According to the National Institute of Health, 24-45% of women over the age of 30 experience urinary incontinence at some point in their life. Women are more likely to develop problems following pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.
While common, this condition goes severely underreported as many women may feel uncomfortable discussing their symptoms with their primary care provider.
When it comes to severity, Dr. Valley shares, “Women may experience an extreme range in severity—from an occasional leak to a sudden and uncontrollable urge to urinate.” This range includes two common types of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence. This is most common in younger women. With stress incontinence, you may experience an occasional leak when you cough, laugh or sneeze.
- Urge incontinence. Often referred to as “overactive bladder,” you may feel a sudden urge to urinate that is so severe you can’t get to a toilet in time. This can happen when you don’t expect it, such as during sleep, when you arrive home in your car, or when you hear or touch running water.
Both types of incontinence can have a significant impact on your quality of life and make it unnerving to engage socially with friends and family when you don’t know when the problem might occur.
Treating incontinence doesn’t always mean surgery.
The good news is that for the majority of cases, treatments are available to cure or significantly improve symptoms. “We most often approach treatment with non-surgical options first, such as Kegel exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor,” Dr. Valley says. A specialized pelvic floor/bladder physical therapist may assist you with this.
In addition, Dr. Valley suggests the following approaches before moving to a surgical option:
- Lifestyle changes. Exercise can help restrengthen your pelvic floor. Cutting down on caffeine, carbonated beverages and alcohol can also be helpful as these drinks may irritate your bladder.
- Behavioral techniques. In conjunction with Kegel exercises, you may also consider bladder retraining to learn to delay urination. Sometimes scheduling toilet trips rather than waiting for the need to go may decrease the times you leak. A pelvic floor/bladder physical therapist can help you with these techniques.
- Medications. There are several medications to treat incontinence in men and women. Most are useful for urge incontinence.
If your occasional problem has turned into a bigger issue that is impacting the quality of your life, the first step is to make an appointment with your Ridgeview provider to discuss further treatment options.