Urinary incontinence is more common than reported. Regrettably, many people suffer in silence and restrict their daily activities. Yet incontinence is often easily managed and treated, indeed, experts have shown that nearly 80% of people with poor bladder control can be cured or improve.
Bladder control is a problem for women and men, and some young people. Experts estimate that four out of five incontinence patients are women — especially those who have had pregnancies or who are elderly.
Urine leakage is the symptom of a medical problem. Diabetes, strokes or Parkinson’s can damage nerves. A bladder infection or irritation (like a kidney stone) can scar the urethra (the tube that moves urine from the bladder). Childbirth can weaken muscles, stretch tendons, or damage nerves. Drugs like diuretics can increase bladder activity. It can be hard to get to a toilet if severe arthritis slows walking, or if medication makes a person confused or sleepy. Lower estrogen during menopause can weaken the vaginal canal.
There are several types of incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when pressure on the bladder causes a loss of control and leakage. This often occurs when a person sneezes, laughs, falls, runs, exercises or lifts a heavy object. Urge incontinence is different; the bladder becomes overactive, perhaps from a spasm. The sudden urge to go makes a person rush to the toilet. Overflow incontinence can occur when the bladder will not empty and urine builds. Something might prevent the bladder from emptying, such as constipation, an enlarged prostate, or scar tissue.
Pelvic surgery and trauma can affect the nerves, muscles, and structure of the pelvic area.
For women, the trauma of childbirth and carrying a baby can reduce support of pelvic organs, affect the bladder, and injure nerves. After a pregnancy, weak muscles can also cause the bladder or uterus to drop out of place and bulge into the vaginal canal or press down on the rectum.
For men, especially older men, an enlarged prostate or prostate surgery can weaken muscles or cause nerve damage. The surgeon might widen a passage for urine or use techniques to shrink an enlarged prostate gland. Men can need surgery for prostate cancer. At times, surgery results in complications such as impotence or incontinence
There are many urological tests that can help specialists learn the specific problem or problems causing leakage. Urodynamics tests are helpful to see how efficiently a bladder fills and empties.
However, don’t assume that incontinence is a problem that you must just accept.
Don’t be embarrassed to get help. Specialists (urologists for men and women, or urogynecologists for women) can do tests to pinpoint medical problems. Finfing the right solution depends on identifying the real problem.
Don’t be afraid to be honest with your doctor or nurse, give a complete history so they have all the information to make a correct diagnosis. Don’t be surpised to be asked for a physical examination and to provide a urine sample.
Look for habits that you can change to manage leakage. Some people improve by avoiding caffeine, alcohol and certain drugs, and by limiting fluids at night before bedtime. A diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce constipation. Drink enough fluids in the daytime to avoid urinary tract infections and constipation.
If you weigh too much, lose weight. A large belly puts pressure on the pelvic muscles. Excess weight can cause both stress and urge incontinence.
For urge incontinence, create a regular schedule to empty your bladder, starting at every two hours. Over time, you can increase the time between trips to the bathroom. This schedule can retrain your bladder to control urges.
Regardless of your age or sex, force yourself to do Pelvic Floor (Kegel) exercises. They can strengthen muscles to support the bladder and control leakage. Don’t just blame old age or being out of shape for your poor bladder control.
If you are a young woman, start doing Kegel exercises before getting pregnant. Strong pelvic muscles will serve you throughout your life and could make the effects of childbirth less difficult.