What is incontinence?
Urinary incontinence goes by many names, including leaking, bladder sensitivity, or issues with bladder control. Essentially, it is the unintentional passing of urine.
10 million women in the UK experience incontinence, so it is common, but there are different types and it can affect people to differing degrees.
The most common types of incontinence include stress incontinence (leaking urine when your bladder has pressure on it – like when you cough, sneeze or laugh), and urge incontinence (when you have an intense urge to pass urine and you suddenly leak). There can even be a mix of both.
There is also the less common overflow incontinence which is when there is a blockage in the bladder, so you can’t completely empty it. In extremis, there is total incontinence where urine can’t be held and you constantly leak.
What causes incontinence?
The underlying cause of incontinence can depend on the type of condition you have.
In stress incontinence, the most likely cause is damage and weakness to the muscles involved in bladder control, such as the pelvic floor. This weakness can be attributed to pregnancy or being overweight due to the excess pressure on the pelvic floor, or it may have become damaged through childbirth or surgery. In some cases, the weakness is simply due to age, though it is certainly not an inevitable part of aging.
Urge incontinence is often due to over activity of the muscles that control the relaxation and contraction of the bladder. These muscles can fire off inappropriately if you drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol, or if the bladder gets irritated through dehydration or a urinary infection.
There are certain medications that can trigger both these types of incontinence. Some neurological conditions, like stroke, Parkinson’s disease and MS, can also affect your bladder.
How do you diagnose incontinence?
If you’re experiencing incontinence, it is important to see your GP. They will want to take a history from you and examine you. They may also ask you to keep a bladder diary, so they have a better understanding of how frequently you are passing urine and in what circumstances you are leaking.
How to treat incontinence
Treatment can be categorised as either self-management or specialist management.
Through self-management, you can reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake, and make sure you are well hydrated. Losing weight can also have a positive effect on symptoms, as well as doing pelvic floor exercises at home, such as Rebounding. I would always suggest using incontinence products like Depend® Active Fit so that you can continue enjoying an active lifestyle whilst managing your symptoms.
If your symptoms aren’t improving with self-management, you should see your doctor who may refer you to a specialist. They will give you an individual exercise programme to strengthen your pelvic floor and train your bladder, and you may even be offered medication or surgery if these techniques aren’t working.