Urinary incontinence can be frustrating and embarrassing, but luckily, it is treatable.
Urinary incontinence is exactly what it sounds like—a loss of bladder control that results in urine leakage. It can be accompanied by frequent urination, interrupted sleep because of needing to urinate during the night, and even accidentally wetting the bed.
Women are more likely to be affected than men, with twice as many women reporting urinary incontinence and urinary frequency. Pregnancy and childbirth, prolapse of pelvic organs, menopausal changes, chronic illnesses like diabetes and sleep apnea, certain medications, and being overweight can contribute to urinary incontinence and frequency.
Urinary incontinence becomes more common as women age, with four out of 10 women aged 65 and older experiencing urinary incontinence. However, urinary incontinence can affect women of any age.
Evaluation and Treatment
The two most common types of incontinence are stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs with a cough, a laugh, a sneeze, with exercise or when picking up something heavy. Urge incontinence occurs when the bladder muscle contracts, causing urinary leakage.
Even though stress incontinence and urge incontinence are caused by two different problems, there are several treatments that can help both. Physical therapy, weight loss, stopping smoking and lifestyle modification to reduce bladder irritants can help reduce urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence is sometimes managed with a pessary (a device used to support the uterus) or with surgery. Urge incontinence is sometimes managed with medication, with Botox injections, or with a nerve stimulator.
Urinary incontinence can be evaluated by your primary care provider or by a specialist. The provider you see can help determine the type or types of incontinence you have and offer treatment options.
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus and bladder. Kegel exercises can help improve bladder control.
To do Kegel exercises, tighten the muscles in your pelvic and genital area as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine. Try to tighten the pelvic muscles, but keep the muscles in your legs, stomach and buttocks relaxed. Tighten the pelvic muscles for three seconds, then release for three seconds. Work up to three sets of 10 each day, and you may see your symptoms improve in 3 to 6 weeks.
What Is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?
If you find that Kegel exercises do not help alleviate your symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider about pelvic floor physical therapy, a form of therapy that will help strengthen your pelvic floor the same way Kegel exercises do. Pelvic floor therapy may include biofeedback, which your physical therapist may use to help you see your muscle squeeze pressure on a screen. It may also include exercises as prescribed by your physical therapist to help strengthen your pelvic floor, or the therapist may use myofascial release, a technique that stretches and releases tension in the connective tissue of your pelvic region.
To learn about the Pelvic Health Program at St. Vincent Health, visit stvincent.org/Services/Women’s-Health/Pelvic-Health.