Urinary incontinence is a sudden loss of bladder control that causes you to release urine when you don’t want to
It may be when you laugh, cough or least expect it. It is something that you might be embarrassed about, but you shouldn't feel isolated because it’s actually a very common problem. It is estimated up to six million women in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence.
What causes urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence happens when part of the urinary system or nervous system is not working properly. It can occur at any age, but does become more common as you get older.
However, it’s something you needn’t put up with, because there are plenty of treatments that can help you. There’s no need to let it stop you doing the activities you enjoy like socialising or exercise as we can easily treat it. Stress incontinence and urge incontinence are two common types of the condition.
This has nothing to do with emotional stress. It’s when you pass urine without wanting to. It may happen when you cough, sneeze or laugh and put pressure on the bladder.
There are muscles at the opening of the bladder. These usually form a seal so urine doesn’t leak out. If these muscles are weakened (perhaps after the strain of childbirth, or after the menopause when the tissue becomes weaker due to the lack of oestrogen) the seal can leak.
This happens when you have a strong urge to pass urine, you can’t get to the toilet in time, and you can’t stop yourself. An overactive bladder can cause it. The bladder is made up of muscle fibres and fills up like a balloon. If the bladder fills and becomes irritable, it may contract at an inappropriate time, causing a strong need to pass urine.
If you think you have urge incontinence, it’s best to see a consultant. The consultant may ask you to fill in a ‘bladder diary’ and answer some questions related to your urinary problems.
- Around one in three adults will experience some urinary problem at different stages of their lives
- Up to one in four women with a problem with incontinence has never discussed her condition with a health care provider
- Urinary incontinence is twice as common in women as it is in men
How we can help if you have urinary incontinence
For stress incontinence, treatment involves strengthening the muscles that support the bladder neck. Our experienced physiotherapists can offer a great deal of assistance with pelvic floor exercises. Surgery may be an option after you have tried other treatments. There are procedures to strengthen and lift the muscles that support the bladder neck. Or a synthetic sling can be inserted to help support the bladder neck and stop urine leakage.
Treatment for urge incontinence is not normally surgical but our specialists can advise on how we can help. Don’t let it get you down. There are ways we can remedy this condition, including bladder retraining and medication.
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A strong pelvic floor can be the key to preventing, improving or curing urinary stress incontinence – as well as a range of other women’s health issues. Rachel Bromley demonstrates simple exercises you can do to help take back control of your bladder.