Living with Stress Incontinence

While the effects of stress incontinence are felt by millions of people, a disproportionately high number of women experience it compared to men. After understanding the symptoms and causes of stress incontinence, this inequity is no mystery.

In a case of stress incontinence, urine is involuntarily released when even slight pressure is placed on the bladder. Typical actions that cause stress incontinence include laughing, sneezing, coughing, or straining to lift a heavy object. These place a sudden increase in pressure on the abdominal area around the bladder, which results in stress incontinence.

The Effect on Women

Stress incontinence occurs because the muscle charged with holding urine in the bladder, known as the sphincter, is weak or damaged. Likewise, the pelvic floor muscles hold up the bladder and surrounding tissue, so when these muscles are not strong, the bladder and urethra can shift out of place, keeping them from functioning properly.

One of the main contributors to this condition is pregnancy and childbirth. The rigors of childbirth can cause damage to internal organs such as the muscles of the pelvic floor, delicate nerve endings, the urethra, and the bladder itself. If there are complications during the birthing process, the likelihood of postpartum stress incontinence increases. The types of complications that can increase the chance of muscle damage include a forceps delivery, a long labor, a large baby, and a massive episiotomy.

At any given time roughly one third of women in the UK, across all age groups, suffer from some symptom of incontinence. This number is so high because of the toll that pregnancy and childbirth take on a woman’s body.

Unfortunately there is still a good deal of embarrassment that accompanies incontinence, and as a result, many women deal with stress incontinence privately for years before seeking the help of a physician. It is important for women to understand that incontinence is neither a natural byproduct of childbirth or of aging, and if episodes of stress incontinence are occurring regularly, it is important to consult with a physician. The good news is that more often than not incontinence can be cured, and even if treatment options do not completely resolve the problem, symptoms can be managed.

Identifying the Problem

While stress incontinence is the most common type suffered by women (especially those under 40), there are also other types of incontinence that women may experience. It is important to let a medical professional properly diagnose any incontinence as it occurs. Often doctors will perform a physical exam to determine your overall health, and collect a urine sample to rule out a urinary tract or bladder infection.

Typically a physician asks a series of questions regarding when the incontinence problems started; when symptoms are most pronounced; if there is any pain or other accompanying symptoms; how often episodes of incontinence occur; if any drugs are being taken; and if there is any constipation. The doctor may also ask additional questions, including some about eating and drinking patterns. Therefore, it may be useful to keep a log of your diet along with bathroom visits and episodes of incontinence.

After making a determination of what is causing the incontinence, a physician will recommend a course of treatment to cure the incontinence, or at least minimize its effects. The solution can be as simple as adjusting your diet, or it may be as involved as surgery, with lots of options like exercise, medications, or bladder training in between.

If you suffer from stress incontinence, take heart: you are not alone! Discuss it with your physician to find a solution to bring it under control.

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