No one likes the idea of incontinence, but it’s a fact of life for up to one-third of adults in the United States, especially as they grow older. While urinary incontinence can strike both genders, women have unique challenges that make them two times more likely to develop incontinence, and at younger ages.
Our team of women’s health specialists here at The Center for Women's Health has extensive experience helping women navigate the often challenging waters of reproductive health, including urinary incontinence. The bad news is that it’s more common than you might think, but the good news is that there are solutions for urinary incontinence.
In the following, we discuss the two primary types of urinary incontinence in women — why it develops and what we can do about it.
If you’ve ever been pregnant, you likely have some experience with stress incontinence. This type of incontinence is characterized by leakage when there’s pressure on your bladder (such as when you sneeze, cough, or laugh). While pregnancy is a common culprit behind stress incontinence, thanks to the added pressure of the baby, this condition occurs in women of all ages, though it becomes more prevalent as women age and pass through menopause.
When women pass through menopause, they experience a precipitous drop in reproductive hormones, namely estrogen. While these hormones regulate the release of your eggs, they also play no small role in the health of your tissues, including those that support your bladder. When these tissues begin to weaken and lose their structural integrity, primarily due to a lack of collagen, stress incontinence can develop.
There are several ways we can go about treating stress incontinence. In its earlier stages, we recommend exercises (Kegels), which strengthen your pelvic floor to provide your bladder with adequate support.
We can also turn to hormone replacement therapies to strengthen your tissues. In moderate-to-severe cases, we can insert a pessary to better support your bladder.
Overactive bladder, aka urge incontinence
The second prevalent form of urinary incontinence in women is overactive bladder (OAB), which is also called urge incontinence. OAB affects about 40% of women. It occurs when your brain signals that your bladder is full and activates the muscles, despite the fact that your bladder may be far from full.
This can happen during the day and at night and is often caused by:
- Urinary tract infections
- Stimulants, such as caffeine
- Overactive bladder muscles (involuntary contractions) that develop with age
- Nerve damage due to childbirth
The end result in each of these cases is that you have frequent, sudden urges to urinate that can be accompanied by an inability to control your urination.
To treat OAB, we turn to bladder training as well as medications that can help quiet the involuntary contractions in your bladder. You can also make changes on your own, such as avoiding stimulants like caffeine.
The bottom line is that urinary incontinence isn’t something you need to live with, and there are solutions. To get started, contact one of our two offices in Newport News or Hampton, Virginia.