We expect to need diapers as infants, and are realistic about the possibility we may need incontinence products in our sunset years. However, not many women consider that “leakage” will be an issue throughout their lives, even though 30 percent or more of women age 20 and older experience urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control; women experience it two times more than men do. There are two primary types of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence and urge incontinence.
Stress incontinence is caused by weakened pelvic floor or sphincter muscles. Urge incontinence is the result of the bladder muscle becoming overactive, leaving you with a strong urge to go to the bathroom, at times even when you have little urine in your bladder. Nerve or muscle damage, certain medications and other conditions — pregnancy, urinary tract infections and menopause — can contribute to incontinence.
While urinary incontinence is common, it is not often discussed — leading to the spread of myths about the loss of bladder control. Some women even feel embarrassed discussing it with their doctors.
Myth #1: Incontinence only affects women.
Incontinence is much more common in women, but men can experience it as well.
Myth #2: Women who have given birth will forever have to deal with a little leakage.
While incontinence can be experienced during pregnancy and after childbirth, it often will get better over time as the muscles of the pelvis heal. If it doesn’t improve, there are exercises, lifestyle changes and other treatments that can help.
Myth #3: Incontinence is just a normal part of aging.
While age can contribute to the likelihood you’ll experience incontinence, it’s not inevitable. Several factors can play a role, including childbirth, obesity, smoking and other medical conditions.
Myth #4: “Holding it in” or forcing yourself “to go” are great ways to deal with incontinence.
Teaching yourself bad bladder habits, such as holding it in or forcing yourself to go when you don’t feel an urge, can disrupt the normal balance of your pelvic floor, which plays a key role in bladder control.
Myth #5: You either have to have surgery or learn to deal with urinary incontinence.
There are several nonsurgical therapies that can treat urinary incontinence. These include improved bladder habits, physical therapy, medications, pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking.
“Urinary incontinence should not be considered a ‘normal’ part of being a woman, whether you are young or old,” says Dr. Cole. “If it bothers you, then it’s not normal and does not need to be tolerated. There are many treatments worth learning about. This is not something you have to live with.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Emily Cole about urinary incontinence for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.