Stress incontinence is the uncontrollable leakage of urine during physical exertion such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercise.
Is stress incontinence normal?
As the most widespread type of urinary incontinence, stress incontinence is very common, with over 9 million men and women of all ages in the UK experiencing some form of it.
What causes stress incontinence?
An easy way to imagine stress incontinence is to picture yourself holding a water balloon. The narrow part of the balloon is squeezed shut by your fingers so that the water doesn’t trickle out. But if your fingers don’t hold tight enough and you press the balloon, the water will leak out. The balloon represents your bladder, your fingers represent your pelvic floor muscles and the pressure on the balloon represents some external physical force.
The most common causes of stress incontinence are:
- Pregnancy and childbirth weakening the pelvic floor muscles
- Menopause and ageing
- Having a hysterectomy
- Prostate surgery in men
- Urinary tract infections
- Obesity and chronic coughing caused by smoking which can put extra pressure on the bladder
Stress incontinence can be diagnosed in a variety of different ways. Generally, you would visit your doctor or an urologist who would do specialised tests such as:
- Coughing forcefully to see if any urine leaks out
- Analysing your urine to see if any irregularities are found
- An ultrasound to create a holistic image
- Keeping a ‘bladder diary’ to record how often you use the toilet and how much urine there is every time you go
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Stress incontinence treatment
If you receive the right treatment, you should be able to lead a relatively trouble-free life. Here are the most commonly used stress incontinence management techniques, exercises and tips:
- Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
- Behavioural changes such as
- Drinking less alcohol, coffee and tea
- Going to the bathroom more often
- Avoiding strenuous activities
- Giving up smoking
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Avoiding certain food and drink
- Incontinence medication to help your bladder leak less urine
- Incontinence surgery if other options have been exhausted
Suffering from stress incontinence is definitely not something that you need to learn to live with, nor be ashamed or embarrassed about. Discreet solutions are available to help manage stress incontinence by decreasing its impact on your everyday activities. You may need to speak to your doctor or get a referral to a specialist so the two of you can map out a plan to manage your stress incontinence.