Around 11million men and women suffer from weakened pelvic floor muscles, but there are ways to get them back in shape.
A weak bladder might be more common than hay fever but it’s still a hugely taboo subject.
So women everywhere applauded Hollywood actress Kate Winslet when she talked openly about her post-children bladder problems.
In a TV interview last November the Oscar winner, 40, confessed: “I can’t jump on trampolines anymore – I wet myself. It’s bloody awful, especially if you’re wearing a skirt. When you’ve had a few children it’s just what happens.”
A third of British women admit they’ve suffered from stress incontinence after a fit of the giggles or an exercise session.
And although more commonly associated with women following childbirth, stress incontinence is a problem that can affect both sexes, with one in 10 men in the UK also affected, most often following prostate surgery.
Why it happens to women
Stress incontinence occurs when urine leaks out at times when the bladder is under pressure – this can be from laughing, coughing or from any exercise that involves jumping.
For women this usually happens because the pelvic floor muscles that support the urethra have been damaged by pregnancy or childbirth, or have lost tone following the drop in hormones after the menopause.
Alongside stress incontinence, there’s a related condition also caused by weakened pelvic floors known as ‘urge incontinence’ – which causes a sudden sense of urgency forcing sufferers to rush to the toilet with little warning, or risk wetting themselves.
How men can be affected
For men, bladder weakness most commonly occurs after prostate surgery and can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome during the recovery process.
Like women, men can also suffer from age-related loss of pelvic muscle tone. This is because the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body, is shaped like a U-bend. In younger men the surrounding muscles contract strongly, helping expel the last drop of urine stuck in the bottom of the U-bend. However, with age these muscles can weaken, meaning some urine gets left behind. As a man walks away from the toilet, the movement stimulates the urethra to push out and leak the last bit of urine.
What you can do
There’s good robust evidence that physiotherapy – exercises targeted to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles – will improve symptoms for 75% of people with bladder incontinence.