If you have a leaky bladder, chances are you don’t shout about it from the rooftops.
Instead, many people just suffer in silence, believing that ‘surprise!’ urination is something they just have to live with.
However, statistics show that over 3 million people in the UK live with bladders they cannot control, and the condition affects more women than men.
Given the crippling impact it can have on your confidence, mental wellbeing, and social life, it’s time to talk about it and find solutions.
Our guide to urinary incontinence and treatments is here to help.
What we’ll be looking into:
- What is urinary incontinence and why does it happen?
- Pregnancy and leaky bladders
- How to cope with menopause-related incontinence
- UTIs, leaky bladders and treatment
- Neurological conditions and incontinence
What is urinary incontinence and why does it happen?
When your waterworks are functioning normally your brain and bladder working together to control urination.
Urine is stored in the bladder, where pelvic muscles hold it in place until the brain sends a signal that it’s time to wee.
When the bladder receives that signal, its muscles contract and the sphincter at the neck of the bladder opens, forcing urine out through the urethra.
However, if you are suffering from urinary incontinence, the brain signals or the bladder muscles aren’t working as they should, leading to unexpected urination.
What the experts say:
Urinary incontinence is no laughing matter – it can be incredibly stressful and upsetting.
The US Urology Foundation says: “[Urinary incontinence] can affect emotional, psychological and social life. Many people who have urinary incontinence are afraid to do normal daily activities. They don’t want to be too far from a toilet. Urinary incontinence can keep people from enjoying life.”
That’s why seeking treatment and finding the right solution for you is so important.
Common types of urinary incontinence
The most common types of urinary incontinence are Stress Incontinence and Urge Incontinence. Many people suffer from one or both.
- Stress incontinence
If you have stress incontinence, your bladder may leak urine when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or do some sort of sudden movement. It happens because the pelvic floor muscles are weak, and when you put extra pressure on them they buckle.
- Urge incontinence
Have you ever had a sudden, strong urge to pee and no time to reach the toilet? When this happens consistently, it’s urge incontinence and is sometimes known as ‘overactive bladder’ as you need to go multiple times a day, producing small amounts of urine.
If you are someone that experiences both types, it’s known as ‘mixed incontinence’.
What is causing my urinary incontinence?
You might be experiencing a leaky bladder for several reasons, some of which are common and others rare.
Let’s look at three common ones:
1. Pregnancy, childbirth and incontinence
During your pregnancy journey, the body is focused on growing the baby and preparing to deliver it.
The muscles in your pelvic floor will come under more pressure as the foetus gets bigger and they endure a heavier load.
Those pelvic muscles also get softer so that when the time comes to give birth, the process of childbirth is easier.
Both of these factors can lead to pregnancy incontinence and, following birth, leave women with leaky bladders.
What the experts say:
They say: “Do your pelvic floor exercises even if you haven’t had any leaks or dashes to the loo as they will improve your bladder control.
After the baby is delivered, they say you should start PFMT again as soon as it’s safe to do so, even if you have a C-section.
The NCT says: “As long as the birth was straightforward, start the exercises again as soon as you feel up to it. If you had stitches, start lying down and work your way up to doing them while sitting. Start with gentle, short, pelvic floor muscle squeezes.”
“If you had ventouse, forceps or a caesarean, start your pelvic floor muscle exercises once any urinary catheter has been removed and you are weeing normally.”
Knowing how to do your PMFT correctly can be challenging. We suggest seeking help from a specialist women’s health physiotherapist who may suggest a range of pelvic floor exercises specific to your needs.
2. Incontinence due to menopause
Menopause can come with a plethora of unpleasant symptoms, and we’re sorry to report that incontinence is one of them.
Almost 50% of post-menopausal women say they’ve experienced a leaky bladder situation at some point, which means it’s much more common than you might imagine.
During menopause, the body produces less oestrogen, which can weaken the muscles in your bladder and urinary tract.
Muscle weakening plus any irritation and inflammation in those areas can lead to the need to wee more, or urgently, and lead to leakages.
What the experts say:
The Menopause Charity has a great guide on how to treat menopausal incontinence.
They also advocate for:
Lifestyle changes – they suggest you limit bladder-irritating caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods, quit smoking, and maintain a healthy weight.
Stay hydrated – by drinking plenty of water, you can dilute the urine and make it less likely to irritate your bladder.
Use vaginal oestrogen products – some creams, rings, or tablet products have been shown to help bladder function by restoring oestrogen levels in the pelvic area.
3. UTIs and incontinence
Many of us will have had a UTI (urinary tract infection) at some point, and some people get them repeatedly.
One of the most common symptoms of UTIs is the urge to urinate more frequently, which can lead to leaky bladders.
What the experts say:
The Incontinence Institute explains: “The link between UTIs and incontinence can be caused by several factors. In some cases, a UTI can trigger or worsen symptoms of urge incontinence.
“The inflammation and irritation caused by the infection can lead to bladder spasms and increase the urgency to urinate. These spasms may cause involuntary urine leakage, resulting in urge incontinence episodes.”
The good news is that UTIs are usually easy to treat – often, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, which will take effect after a few days.
Also, increase your intake of clear fluids and take painkillers if needed. If you have persistent UTIs, please seek medical help.
Neurological conditions and incontinence
We just wanted to add that if you live with a condition such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s or have a neurological injury or spinal cord damage, you may become incontinent.
Leaking due to neurological conditions is often called a ‘neurogenic bladder’.
Yale Medicine explains, “Neurogenic bladder is a bladder dysfunction caused by damage to the body’s nervous system. Typically, the muscles and nerves of the urinary system work together to carry messages from the brain to the bladder.
“When communications break down—because of a physical injury to the nervous system or other impairment—it can result in a loss of bladder control and problems such as kidney or bladder stones, leaking or incontinence.”
Medical teams should be on hand to advise and help you with treating neurogenic bladder issues.
Do not suffer in silence
Hopefully, you’ll realise that having a leaky bladder is far more common than you might have thought – and crucially, you can do something about it.
Remember, while seeking treatment, you can also use products like disposable incontinence pads and reusable underwear to help manage the problem.
Those temporary solutions can empower you to live the life you want without fearing a leak that may cause you public embarrassment.
But you shouldn’t feel any shame about going to your GP to ask for help treating incontinence at any stage.
Chances are they can help you find effective treatments to solve the problem together.
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