Incontinence: The Common Problem You’re Not Talking About

Elisa Trowbridge, MD, who works with patients with pelvic floor disorders, contributed this post.

It’s an extremely common medical problem that most people don’t discuss in polite company: urine leakage.

This embarrassing problem affects 40 percent of women in the United States in one of the following forms:

  • Stress incontinence, or leaking urine while exercising, laughing, sneezing and other activities that increase pressure in your abdomen (the most common form in younger women)
  • Urge incontinence, or overactive bladder, where you frequently feel like you have to go to the bathroom and can’t always make it in time
  • Overflow, a much rarer condition where women leak small amounts of urine frequently because their bladder is constantly full
  • Mixed incontinence, a combination of urge and stress incontinence

Incontinence: Why Us?

Women are much more likely men to develop incontinence because pregnancy and childbearing weaken the nerves and muscles of the pelvic floor and urinary system. Women have much shorter urethras than men, which allows urine to leave the body much more easily.

But factors besides being female can increase your risk. Smoking, obesity, consuming diuretics (including the caffeine in your coffee, tea and soda) and taking certain medications can also contribute to incontinence.

Some Simple Treatments

The good news? Non-surgical treatments can be very effective for certain patients. These include:

  • Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles
  • Decreasing caffeine intake
  • Weight loss
  • Scheduling times to go to the bathroom
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy
  • Medications

For stress incontinence, your doctor can insert a pessary, a small plastic device helps support the urethra.

Stress incontinence also can be treated surgically with a mid-urethral sling. During this minimally invasive outpatient procedure, the surgeon makes a very small vaginal insertion and attaches a small synthetic tape to the urethra for support.

When an experienced surgeon performs this procedure, the minimally invasive sling has a cure rate of 85 percent to 95 percent, with a complication rate of less than 5 percent.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re struggling with urinary incontinence, be sure to bring up the subject with your primary healthcare provider. Help is available. With the right treatment from the right doctor, you can enjoy life without having to worry about bladder control.

Our Women’s Center for Continence and Pelvic Surgery has experienced, fellowship-trained doctors who offer a wide variety of treatments for urinary incontinence.

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