Managing Urinary Incontinence in Women: Strategies and Treatment Options

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Urinary incontinence is a condition experienced by women of all ages, and it can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage. While it’s more common in women who have gone through or are going through menopause, UI can happen to anyone.
It’s important to understand that urinary incontinence isn’t a disease in itself, but rather a consequence of another health issue. There are a number of ways to treat it, depending on its severity and a person’s general health.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the muscles of your bladder, which results in the involuntary loss of urine. The most common reason for UI is weak pelvic floor muscles. These muscles protect a woman’s urethra, uterus, bowels, and bladder and can be damaged during menopause, pregnancy, childbirth, as well as illness.

When the muscles are weakened, they can’t hold the pressure of the fluid in the bladder, so involuntary leakage can happen.
A woman’s reproductive system is exposed to stress far more due to all the changes that happen during pregnancy and menopause, so UI is twice as likely to happen to a woman than a man.
However, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you’ll have a better chance of staying agile throughout your senior years.

The main types of urinary incontinence are:

  • Stress incontinence

This type of incontinence means that your weak pelvic floor muscles put pressure on your bladder during moments of physical stress (anything from sneezing to running), which causes small urine leaks. Even women who haven’t gone through menopause can struggle with stress incontinence.

  • Urge incontinence

Another name for it is ”overactive bladder.” Women with urge incontinence experience a strong and immediate urge to urinate, and leakage happens very soon after unless you can reach a restroom quickly.
There’s a strong pressure of the weak pelvic floor muscles on the bladder, so even though the bladder isn’t full, the instant urge can still happen. The result is the need to empty the bladder far more frequently than it’s actually necessary.

  • Mixed incontinence

In this condition, women suffer from both stress and urge incontinence simultaneously.

How to manage urinary incontinence?

The way urinary incontinence in women is treated depends on the type and the level of discomfort. The gradual approach usually does the trick – you start with modifications in your behavior and diet to see if there are improvements.
Once you’re diagnosed with incontinence, the safest way to prevent problematic situations in public is to use adult incontinence diapers, but long-term solutions require more time and dedication.
If incontinence persists, your physician may suggest more aggressive medications and procedures to alleviate discomfort.

Urinary Incontinence Treatment Options for Women

These are some behavioral treatments your general physician or uro-gynecologist may recommend. They’re the first, least-invasive step towards managing the UI.

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  • Improving your diet and physical fitness

The way your body functions largely depends on your diet. One of the first things your doctor will recommend is reducing smoking, caffeine, and alcohol, as these can irritate your bladder and make incontinence worse. Maintaining a healthy level of fitness is also important because excessive weight can put even more pressure on your already stressed bladder.

  • Bladder training and bladder diary

A woman with a healthy bladder urinates up to 8 times a day. With bladder training, that is your ultimate goal – to hold off going to the bathroom even when the urge is there. You’ll want to run a bladder diary, where you’ll note how often you go to the bathroom. Next, schedule when you’re going to the bathroom, and follow through, even if you don’t feel the need. After that, you can slowly add more time in between bathroom visits, which lets you train your bladder to hold urine for longer.

  • Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises

Famous Kegels have many perks, the biggest one being the strengthening of your pelvic floor muscles. Contracting and relaxing those muscles will help you alleviate the pressure they put on your bladder and urethra. Kegel exercises can help both with stress and urge incontinence. If you’re not sure how to perform the exercises, pelvic floor specialists can provide necessary guidance.

  • Double voiding

To avoid unpleasant urine leakage, you can try double voiding. Go to the bathroom once, then go again after 10 minutes or so, to make sure that your bladder is as empty as it can be.

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In case none of these techniques work, there are other, more aggressive options that your doctor might suggest.

  • Nerve stimulation. There are devices that can send electrical pulses to the bladder, which will stimulate the blood flow to it and improve muscle strength.
  • Medications. Depending on the type of incontinence, your doctor could prescribe medications to help mitigate the incontinence.
  • Bulking agents. In this procedure, a bulking agent is added to the urethra tissue, which helps it keep the urine in longer. The bulking agents are directly injected into the tissue.
  • Botox injections. These can be used to relax the bladder muscles and alleviate the pressure of urge incontinence, but they’re not used as often as other options.
  • Vaginal pessaries. These small silicone devices are used to additionally support the pelvic floor muscles and diminish the urge to urinate.
  • Surgery. This is the last resort in case none of the above options work. The most common surgeries are bladder suspension and sling procedures.

Managing urinary incontinence in women is not only a possibility but a necessity. If you experience any symptoms of incontinence, talk to your physician and chart a path toward a more comfortable and confident life.

Written by Olivia Wolfe ([email protected])