Comforting Solutions for an Uncomfortable Problem
Some women plan their days around the closest bathroom. Others feel a sudden need to “go” every time they put their house key in the door or turn on the kitchen sink — and by the time they reach the bathroom, it may be too late.
Urinary incontinence, or the accidental release of urine, affects twice as many women as men, and can result in embarrassment, anxiety and discomfort.
While incontinence can result from a number of factors, including bladder infections, many times the specific cause is unknown. It may be related to weak urinary tract muscles or improper control of urination by nerves in the urinary tract.
There are two main types of incontinence; some women experience both, especially as they get older:
- Stress incontinence, the most common type of incontinence among women, results from pressure on the bladder caused by sneezing, coughing, laughing and similar actions.
- Urge incontinence occurs when you get a strong, sudden urge to go to the bathroom immediately followed by a strong contraction of the bladder, which results in a loss of urine.
In the past, patients have been reluctant to mention incontinence to their doctors, often because they were embarrassed or chalked it up to an unavoidable side effect of aging. In fact, incontinence is common and highly treatable, and physicians and patients alike are becoming aware of a number of effective solutions.
Treatments generally begin with conservative approaches, such as changes in diet and decreased fluid intake. Biofeedback has proven successful in helping many patients learn to re-train their bladder to be less active and to gain better control over their sphincter muscles.
Medications can help as well, but may cause side effects such as dry mouth or digestive problems. A surgically implanted device that delivers mild electrical stimulation to the sacral nerves that control the bladder can often decrease incontinence. Surgery also may be an option.
Are you at risk?
You may be more likely to experience incontinence if you have stretched your pelvic muscles through childbirth or weight gain.
Warning signs and symptoms
The main symptom of urinary incontinence is the accidental release of urine.
- Stress incontinence is marked by the release of a small amount of urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze, exercise, etc.
- Urge incontinence causes the need to urinate very suddenly and often. You may release urine before you can get to a bathroom.
If you have incontinence or strong, frequent urges to urinate, make an appointment with a physician. For a referral, call 1-800-SCRIPPS (800-727-4777) or see our doctor finder.