How does urinary incontinence affect a woman’s life? What can be done about it?
Medically speaking, urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder. You can’t hold your urine until you reach a bathroom. This is a symptom that something is wrong. Leaking urine can be embarrassing and this can affect a woman socially, medically, and emotionally.
Incontinence is a common problem that affects male and female, both young and old. It may be an embarrassing subject to bring up to your doctor. It may be something you really don’t want to talk about. Speak to your doctor about your medical needs. Seeking treatment for incontinence can improve the quality of life.
While incontinence is a common problem, it is never “normal” to be incontinent. Also, it is important to remember that incontinence is not a “normal” consequence of aging. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), at least 13 million Americans experience urinary incontinence, 11 million are women.
What can you do about urinary incontinence? Look to your family doctor, urologist, urogynecologist, or gynecologist for help. What does each doctor specialize in? An urologist specializes in urinary tract functions, a urogynecologist treats urological problems in women, and a gynecologist specializes in the female reproductive tract.
It is important that you meet with your doctor and discuss your concerns. Your doctor will take a medical history from you and perform a physical exam. Some necessary tests to make an accurate diagnosis might include:
- Blood tests to check for kidney function and to evaluate for medical problems contributing to the problem.
- Urinalysis the examination of urine using physical, chemical, and microscopic means.
- Urine stress test involves coughing with a full bladder.
- Ultrasound to examine the kidneys and bladder using high frequency sound waves.
- Urodynamics testing to evaluate how the bladder fills and empties.
- Cystoscopy use of scope, in surgery, to look inside the bladder.
- PVR post void residual measures the amount of urine left after urination.
Your doctor will determine the type of incontinence you have, and then find the cause of the incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a symptom, not a disease. There are many causes of incontinence. Incontinence can result from birth defects, strokes, multiple sclerosis, neurological injury, pregnancy, vaginal childbirth, and menopause to name a few.
More About Menopause and Incontinence
Tissues of the vagina and lower urinary tract are made from the same type of cells. These cells respond to a hormone called estrogen. The cells deteriorate when estrogen is no longer present. This is a normal event during menopause. Menopause occurs when a woman stops making enough of the female hormone called estrogen.
With deterioration in urinary tissues, a woman might feel urinary frequency and urgency. She might be getting up during the middle of the night to urinate, with a sense of urgency. Urination might even burn or sting. Urinary tract infections are more common because the tissues are not as healthy as they once were.
The deterioration of vaginal tissues due to a decrease in estrogen during menopause can lead to a variety of symptoms for the menopausal woman. She might feel vaginal discomfort such as vaginal burning, dryness, soreness, itching, and painful intercourse.
There are several different types of incontinence. Two very common types of incontinence are:
- Stress incontinence
- Urge incontinence
Stress incontinence occurs when you are laughing, sneezing, coughing, lifting, etc. and urine leaks from the bladder. These activities cause pressure, or stress, on the bladder. This type often occurs in women who have given birth, and their pelvic floor muscles are stretched and weakened.
Another common type of incontinence is urge incontinence. With this type of incontinence, you feel an urge to urinate, but you suddenly lose urine before you have a chance to go to the bathroom. You may also lose urine if you hear water running or touch water. A common cause of urge incontinence is inappropriate bladder contractions.
Other types of incontinence include:
- Mixed incontinence. Usually occurs in older women, and it includes both stress and urge incontinence.
- Functional incontinence. Occurs when a person can’t get to a bathroom due to physical or mental disabilities.
- Overflow incontinence. Involves chronic urine retention, and urine spills over from a full bladder.
After the doctor determines the type and cause of incontinence, treatment can begin. Incontinence can be controlled and this can improve the quality of life. Different options are available to treat incontinence and your doctor will discuss with you the many treatments available. Treatment can involve:
- Behavioral changes. This might include Kegel exercises taught by a medical professional to strengthen or retrain pelvic floor muscles and bladder training measures to regain control over urination.
- Use of medications. Drugs are available to treat urge incontinence.
- Medical devices. This includes pessaries, inserts, patches, catheters.
- Surgery. Restore the bladder to a more normal position in the body.
These are a few of the many treatments available to you. Consult with your doctor for the treatment best suited for your medical needs.
In conclusion, the best advice is to seek professional medical help for urinary incontinence. It is a common complaint of women. Don’t be embarrassed. Since treatment is available, there is no need to allow urinary problems alter you lifestyle. Incontinence can be treated no matter what your age.
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