Incontinence isn’t a natural part of the aging process, in fact incontinence can affect children as well as adults. Incontinence affects more than 50 million people worldwide. Although it’s seen as an “old persons” problem it isn’t something that is a natural right of passage when we get older. There are 3 different types of incontinence affecting a range of people:
Stress Incontinence – This is when pressure is applied to the pelvic floor muscles through physical activity such as sneezing, coughing and lifting, causing small amounts of urine to leak out. Stress incontinence is the most common form of incontinence. It is a very common condition among women. Stress Incontinence often occurs in women that have had children regardless of their age.
Urge Incontinence – Otherwise known as overactive bladder is when there is an increasing urge to urinate. There could literally be a three-minute warning followed by accidental urine. This is a result of spasms in the bladder muscles. Not making it to the toilet in time can be embarrassing but urine leg bags can give you the confidence and peace of mind when you’re out and about.
Overflow Incontinence – This is when the bladder hasn’t been fully emptied during urination. As there is some “leftover urine” this irritates the bladder causing a constant dribble of urine. The extra urine can be drained from the bladder through Intermittent catheters. They work by inserting the catheter (a thin tube) into the urethra. Manufacturers of catheters have developed this piece of equipment so that incontinence sufferers will be able to gain control of their bladder and their life.
After pregnancy the pelvic floor can become weakened which can cause urine to leak out. There are various changes during pregnancy and childbirth which make women more likely to experience incontinence:
Hormonal changes – Hormones surge during pregnancy which can cause the structures supporting the bladder to relax. These hormone levels return to normal after the baby is born which will sometimes sort out the problem.
Baby Weight – As the baby grows and gets heavier it starts to put pressure on the bladder. When sneezing or coughing occurs, the extra strain of carrying a baby causes the pelvic floor muscles to weaken.
Childbirth – During childbirth a lot of stress is placed onto the bladder and it’s supporting muscles, which can cause them to relax. Nerves in the bladder can also be damaged. There are other factors during childbirth which increase the likelihood of stress incontinence in females. The use of forceps, giving birth to a large baby, prolonged labour and multiple births can also contribute. Incontinence may appear soon after childbirth or it’s onset may occur years later.
Stress incontinence can be embarrassing and it can really affect your quality of life. However many people put up with incontinence as they are too ashamed to speak to their doctor. Many don’t realize it’s a medical condition which can be treated. Incontinence isn’t a condition for life.
Here are some behavioural therapies to treat female stress incontinence:
1. Kegel exercises can help to strengthen muscles that have been weakened by childbirth. These exercises are easy to perform and can be done anywhere or at any time. Core exercises such as yoga or Pilates can help strengthen muscle tone.
2. Drink around 6-8 glasses of water a day. Don’t limit your intake as this will decrease your bladders capacity and will make you urinate even more.
3. Avoid alcohol as it’s a diuretic and stimulates the bladder and makes you urinate more. Keep spicy foods, fizzy drinks and citrus fruits to a minimum as these irritate the bladder.
4. If you are overweight you are more likely to be incontinent as more pressure is put on the abdomen, which then puts more pressure on the pelvic floor. Losing even just 5-10% of your body weight can significantly reduce incontinence.
5. Train your bladder by trying to wait longer between needing to urinate and passing urine. This will encourage your bladder to hold more liquid and prevent the urge to always empty.