Urinary incontinence is a common problem in both men and women, however women on the whole are more affected. Around 13% of all women and 5% of men have some level of urinary incontinence, according to the NHS. Stress Incontinence and urge incontinence are more common in women, whereas overflow incontinence is more prevalent in men.
Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence among women. It occurs when pressure is put on the bladder for example when exercising, laughing or coughing and as a result a small amount of urine escapes. Stress incontinence is caused when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened, which could be as a result of childbirth or weight gain.
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor is weakened whilst carrying a baby. When the muscles are no longer able to support the bladder, it drops down and then pushes against the vagina. These muscles are then unable to shut the urethra. Due to this, urine can then leak out as the urethra is always slightly open. When a slight amount of strain is then put on the urethra, for instance while coughing, urine may leak out.
If a woman has surgery such as a hysterectomy, it may damage the supporting pelvic floor muscles as the uterus is removed, leading to incontinence. Pelvic floor muscles will weaken over time due to the menopause, as levels of oestrogen are reduced which affect the stomach muscles. As a result, the bladder then re-aligns itself and those muscles around the urinary tract become less effective.
The second most common type of incontinence is called urge incontinence. This is when the urge to urinate becomes so strong and you immediately need to urinate without much warning. Usually this means that a person can’t make it to the toilet on time.
Urge incontinence is normally as a result of bladder contractions and spasms. Damage to nerve signals may be the cause of these bladder spasms which could be due to a stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury.
There are a few ways you can tackle stress incontinence and these all center around strengthening your pelvic muscles. Kegel exercises are great for strengthening these muscles. To do them, squeeze your muscles as if you are stopping yourself from urinating. However don’t do them during urination as they can actually weaken the muscles. Do this exercise around 5 times a day.
There are a number of other exercises you can do including the shoulder bridge. Lie on your back, place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees slightly. Control your breathing and slowly roll up and push your stomach up to the ceiling until you’re in an arch position (bridge position). When you inhale next slowly let your right hip sink towards the floor without moving your knees or feet. Next let your left hip sink towards the floor and move back into the initial position. Repeat this exercise 5 times.
If you are dealing with urge incontinence, it may be because your bladder is never fully emptied. When the bladder is always slightly full, you may feel the constant need to urinate. To help this, using urinary catheters will get rid of this “leftover” urine.
Stress and urge incontinence can work simultaneously and combinations of the two are referred to as mixed incontinence. So when you’re looking for advice on how to tackle urinary problems, consider first what your symptoms are. Incontinence isn’t a condition but a symptom of other underlying issues. It could also be due to cystitis, diabetes or the medication you’re currently taking, so check with a doctor on the best course of action.