Bladder control: Don’t hide urinary incontinence symptoms

Women of all ages experience bladder control issues such as urinary incontinence. Many women wait six years before seeking treatment –– don’t wait.

Bladder control, bladder incontinence, urinary incontinence, peeing when coughing –– whatever you like to call it, it’s an issue that affects many women. And it’s not just a “change of life” or aging issue –– the issue affects women of all ages. There is a certain stigma to it that keeps many women from getting treatment. However, there is help for the condition, which is sometimes corrected through treatment with a urogynecology specialist.

Urinary Incontinence — Bladder Control Issues More Common Than You Think

One in four women over age 18 experience episodes of incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. In addition to physical discomfort, women experience emotional pain, isolation and fear of ridicule that often prevents them from seeking treatment. On average, a woman will live with incontinence for more than six years before seeking medical advice, due to embarrassment or believing myths such as “incontinence is just a part of aging or being a woman” or “it’s brought on from sexual activity or drinking too much water.”

A woman’s pelvic floor is like a trampoline –– sometimes a bladder can become displaced through a lifetime of activity, including heavy lifting, coughing, constipation and childbirth.

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“A woman’s risk for stress incontinence increases with each pregnancy,” according to J. Ryan Stewart, D.O., urogynecologist with Norton Urogynecology Center.

Chances increase with subsequent pregnancies, and there’s also evidence of a genetic predisposition to incontinence issues, according to Dr. Stewart. Other risk factors for stress incontinence include obesity and previous gynecologic surgery such as hysterectomy.

Treating the Most Common Bladder Control Issues — Stress Incontinence and Urge Incontinence

The two most common types of bladder control issues that lead to urinary incontinence are:

  • Urinary stress incontinence: This type includes an involuntary loss of urine when a woman coughs, sneezes or laughs. This is the most common type and is often a symptom of a weakened pelvic floor.
  • Urge incontinence: In this type, the bladder contracts when it shouldn’t, and urine leaks through the sphincter muscles that hold the bladder closed. It is sometimes called overactive bladder.

A common treatment for both types is Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor. A woman can find the muscles by stopping and starting the urine stream. Regular exercises to strengthen these muscles can improve bladder control symptoms. A urogynecologist or pelvic floor physical therapist can evaluate if the patient is doing the exercises effectively.

“A urogynecologist can help a patient evaluate the full range of treatments available and offer a customized solution,” Dr. Stewart said. “Whether that is medication, surgical procedures, internal or external devices, physical therapy, behavior modification, injections or a combination of treatment options, a urogynecologist can help the patient reach her treatment goals.”

Whether a woman is experiencing a few drops of leakage or large amounts a couple times a week, Dr. Stewart’s advice is: “Don’t wait, seek treatment.”

The Norton Women’s Care Pelvic Health Program specializes in caring for women with pelvic conditions. A full range of specialists, therapists and health care professionals are available to ensure you get back to the life you were meant to live — full of joy, activity, intimacy and strength.


Norton Urogynecology Center

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