Loss of bladder control is a common medical condition among women. Urinary incontinence is an involuntary loss or leakage of urine. Mild leakage affects most women at some time in their lives, and severe leakage affects about one in ten women.
Stress urinary incontinence, which is the most common type of incontinence, occurs with physical activity such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, running, or jumping. Stress urinary incontinence occurs when the tissues that support the opening of the bladder or urethra become weak. Treatments focus on improving the support to the bladder and urethra.
With urge incontinence, a woman has a sudden strong urge to void and leaks urine before she can get to the bathroom. Urge incontinence is sometimes called overactive bladder and occurs when the muscles of the bladder become too active and contract too often leading to leakage of urine. It can also be caused by problems with the nerves that send signals to the bladder. Other symptoms include frequent and strong urges to void and waking up several times a night to use the bathroom.
Mixed incontinence occurs when a woman has symptoms of both stress incontinence and urge incontinence. This combination may cause more urine to leak than either type would alone.
Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder does not empty all the way during voiding. It happens when the bladder muscle is not active enough or when the urethra is blocked. This allows steady leaks of small amounts of urine.
Fortunately, many treatment options are available for incontinence:
Diet and lifestyle changes can improve urinary symptoms. Quitting smoking, losing weight, avoiding caffeinated beverages, avoiding constipation and training one's bladder have all been demonstrated to improve urinary symptoms in research studies.
When performed daily, pelvic muscle or Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic muscles that support the urethra and bladder. These exercises may also improve nerve communication with the bladder. Some women may have trouble identifying or strengthening the correct muscles and may be referred to a women's health physical therapist. Biofeedback is often used to teach and strengthen the correct muscles.