What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the passing of urine unintentionally. It is a common condition which can affect all adults but is most prevalent in older people and more women than men are thought to be affected. According to the NHS, one in five women over the age of 40 suffers from UI.
The health expert highlights the two types of urinary incontinence:
- Stress incontinence – when the pelvic muscles preventing the bladder from releasing urine until a suitable time become too weak
- Urge incontinence – when incorrect signals are transmitted between the brain and the bladder. Normally, the bladder sends a signal to the brain when it is full, making the individual aware that they need to use the bathroom. The brain then sends a signal to the bladder to release the urine at the appropriate time. Urge incontinence occurs when this process has been disrupted.
Medicine Net points out a third type – overflow incontinence, which is the constant release of urine, causing the sufferer to go to the toilet frequently and in small amounts.
What causes it?
Stress incontinence is caused by the weakening of the pelvic muscles. So, any extra pressure on them, such as laughing or sneezing, can make urine leak out. Certain factors can weaken these muscles in women:
- Pregnancy and childbirth can overstretch the muscles
- Getting older usually means muscles become weaker
- Obesity can create excess pressure
- Menopause causes a fall in the level of oestrogen, which can weaken muscles
- Having a hysterectomy can damage the muscles
- Urinary infections such as cystitis can also have an effect
UI is less common in men, but many still suffer from it, according to Medicine Net. Common causes for men and some women include:
- Diabetes – those who have suffered from the condition for a number of years may develop nerve damage which affects their bladder control
- Illnesses such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and stroke can all affect the way the brain interacts with the bladder
- A spinal cord injury can also affect the process by interrupting nerve signals
- Treatment for prostate cancer in men or an enlarged prostate gland, which can irritate the urethra
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of UI is passing urine without intending to. Those suffering from stress incontinence sometimes find this happens during physical activity such as laughing, sneezing, coughing and exercise. Urge incontinence may cause you to pass a larger amount of urine after suddenly feeling the need to go to the toilet while overflow incontinence may give the sufferer the sensation that their bladder is never fully empty.
How can it be treated?
Treatments for UI vary depending on severity and type on incontinence. However, certain lifestyle changes have been known to reduce symptoms regardless. These include:
- Losing weight
- Drinking less caffeine
- Reducing the amount of fluid intake if it is excessive
- Doing pelvic floor exercises daily to strengthen muscles
- Wearing incontinence underwear to increase confidence
If these prove to be ineffective, your doctor may recommend more intrusive treatment. There is a large number of surgical procedures available to minimise the effects of UI, as well as medication.
One celebrity who has suffered from urinary incontinence is actress Helena Bonham Carter.
Images: Wikimedia CommonsTags: causes treatment