Stress incontinence is more common than a lot of people think! In fact, 1 in 5 women in the UK over the age of 40 are affected. And it doesn't just affect the ladies - men can suffer from it too. Stress incontinence can be defined as the involuntary passing of urine when pressure increases within the abdomen or on the bladder. This can happen by doing things such as sneezing, running, laughing or even having sex. These commonplace, sometimes unavoidable triggers can mean that stress incontinence has a negative impact on quality of life. Particularly where laughing and having sex are concerned, these are pleasurable activities which everyone should be able to look forward to without worrying about leaking urine!
What causes stress incontinence?
Here are some common causes...
- Pregnancy and childbirth. Stress incontinence affects approximately 1 in 3 new mums in the first year after giving birth. The pelvic floor muscles stretch during pregnancy and labour. This can cause weakness which may lead to the occasional leaking of urine. You can start doing pelvic floor exercises soon after giving birth. This will help to re-strengthen these muscles and also encourage blood flow to your genital area, helping with healing after birth. However, stress incontinence should not be accepted as a normal part of becoming a mum. If you're still experiencing problems with leaking urine at your 6-week appointment with the midwife, make sure you mention this. It's not something anyone should have to tolerate or accept as being 'the way things are'.
- Obesity. Being overweight can cause your pelvic floor muscles to become weak. Carrying additional weight can put pressure on your bladder, contributing to stress incontinence. It's possible that symptoms could ease or even resolve completely when excess weight is lost. Do this safely through exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet. The NHS provide a free online weight loss plan to help you kick-start things!
- Chronic cough. If you've had a cough for a long time, you can experience stress incontinence. You remain continent when coughing as the pelvic floor muscles contract with each cough, keeping urine within the bladder. However, your pelvic floor muscles may struggle to cope with prolonged coughing and urine may leak as a result. Meet with your GP to discuss your cough, and mention that you've been leaking urine too. They'll be able to take action to treat the cough and also refer you to other specialists who will be able to provide valuable input into the treatment of your cough and leaking.
This isn't a comprehensive list. There are other causes of stress incontinence which we haven't mentioned here. If you have any concerns about stress incontinence at all, we strongly recommend you speak to your GP.
Treating stress incontinence
The following can help in the treatment of stress incontinence...
- Pelvic floor exercises. You may hear these being referred to as Kegels. These exercises help to strengthen the supportive sling of muscles which support the bladder and other organs in the abdominal cavity, reducing your risk of leaking urine. Click here to view our blog post on the pelvic floor, including instructions on how to perform these exercises. Bear in mind it may take a little while to see results. You may need to perform these exercises up to 3 times per day every day for 3 months before you start to notice results.
- Consider what you're drinking. Some drinks are known to irritate the bladder. It's also important to consider the volume of fluid you're drinking and at what times.
- Lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy body weight and treating a chronic cough (if you have one) can help to improve symptoms of stress incontinence.
If you try all of the above and leaking is still an issue, medicine or surgery are the next options which may be considered.