Urinary incontinence – the involuntary leakage of urine – is something people sometimes experience as they get older, and in general it’s more common in women than men.
But there are several risk factors that are associated with urinary incontinence, including obesity and smoking and, as well as age and gender.
If you suffer from urinary incontinence it can be embarrassing and inconvenient. But don’t worry because there are ways to treat it.
Before deciding on the appropriate treatment, you need to determine the type of urinary incontinence you have.
Stress incontinence is the most common type of urinary incontinence amongst women. It occurs due to the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy and post-childbirth. But it can also happen after taking certain medications or if you are obese.
Stress incontinence is not linked to any mental stress but is related to physical stress on the bladder muscles. With stress incontinence, urinary leakage can occur from sneezing, coughing or laughing – basically anything that puts pressure around the abdomen.
Stress incontinence can be treated with Kegel exercises that aim to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Urge incontinence is often referred to as the “overactive bladder”. Those who suffer from urge incontinence have a tendency to urinate before they make it to the bathroom. Urge incontinence is caused by nerve or muscle damage, bladder infections and nervous system disorders.
To treat urge incontinence, you may need to undergo bladder retraining. Bladder retraining aims to make you aware of when you feel the urge to urinate due to bladder spasms. Like when you were a child, you need to teach yourself how to control your urine – you relearn how to hold and release it.
Like with stress incontinence, Kegel exercises can help you gain control over the surrounding muscles. Eventually, you will be able to do them while doing your daily activities around the house.
When Kegel exercises are done correctly and regularly, over time the muscles that surround your bladder will become stronger. A study in New Zealand found women who did Kegel exercises regularly were 17 times more effective in reducing urinary incontinence than those who did not perform Kegel exercises.
Biofeedback and electrical training may also be used to help you regain control over your bladder. Biofeedback is designed to help you gain control over bodily functions that should occur automatically (like your ability to hold urine). It involves using electronic sensors to provide you with information about your body.
A physiotherapist will guide you through biofeedback therapy using breathing techniques, progressing muscle relaxation (tightening and relaxing of specific muscle groups), guided imagery and mindfulness meditation.
In this type of treatment, electrical stimulation sends electrical impulses to the nerves and muscles used for urination. There are kits that can be used at home where you would be required to use a vaginal or anal electrode but visiting a physiotherapist is usually the best option. In the sessions, electrical impulses are used to expand and contract muscles involved in urination – similar to Kegel exercises – in an attempt to gain control over them.