Urinary incontinence (UI) is not a disease, but rather a symptom of a problem in the urinary tract. The condition is often related to physical or hormonal changes that occur as a result of pregnancy, childbirth or menopause. Women are twice as likely to experience urinary incontinence as men, and the incidence of UI increases with age.
Types of urinary incontinence
The most common types of urinary incontinence in women are stress and urge incontinence.
- Stress Incontinence – urinary leakage that occurs when pressure is placed on the bladder through activities like sneezing, laughing, coughing, lifting or bending.
- Urge Incontinence – characterized by a sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate. These symptoms of overactive bladder make it difficult to reach the toilet in time.
- Mixed Incontinence – a combination of stress and urge incontinence.
Diagnosing urinary incontinence
Following a thorough medical history and physical examination, additional tests include:
- Urinalysis – done to rule out urinary tract infection.
- Cystoscopy – performed by passing a small tube with a camera through the urethra and into the bladder to look for abnormalities.
- Urodynamics – a thin tube is used to fill the bladder with water and bladder pressure is measured.
Treating urinary incontinence
There are a number of treatment options available, including:
- Behavioral modification – smoking cessation, limiting nighttime fluids, weight loss, etc.
- Pelvic floor strengthening – Kegel exercises to increase muscle tone
- Medications – to calm the bladder and increase bladder capacity
- Surgery – lift and support the bladder or bladder neck
- Nerve stimulation device – an implantable device that stimulates the nerves to the bladder
- Injection of bulking agents around the urethra to decrease leakage
Many women accept urinary incontinence as a normal part of aging, but UI is not inevitable. Overcoming embarrassment and discussing symptoms with your doctor is the first step in regaining bladder control.