- Jennifer Kruger, PhD
What is urinary incontinence, and how is it treated?
It affects 200 million people worldwide, but it's not talked about enough: here's the rundown on urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the involuntary leaking of urine, or the inability to 'control' your bladder. The amount of urine that leaks can range from a very small amount, to emptying the entire bladder. And while UI affects both men and women, women are twice as likely to experience it in their lifetime. This can be especially true after pregnancy or as we approach menopause.
UI is not just a minor inconvenience. It can have a significant impact on your life—physically, emotionally, and financially. Women may stop exercising, leave employment, or become socially isolated as a result. And the financial costs are not just personal, they're also significant for the healthcare system, costing 12 billion dollars in the US alone last year.
It’s important to know that UI is not normal, and it's not inevitable after childbirth or as a natural part of ageing. Thankfully, there are effective and self-managing options for resolving symptoms. Let’s dive deeper into the three main types of incontinence, the signs and symptoms, and the best ways to manage it.
Stress incontinence (SUI)
The most common type of incontinence, SUI is leaking urine when you're doing physical activities that increase abdominal pressure. This includes coughing, sneezing, jumping, or laughing.
It often occurs when pelvic floor muscles are weakened or stretched. Pregnancy and childbirth are risk factors for stress incontinence, as the pelvic floor muscles can be stretched and weakened during the birth process. Loss of estrogen during menopause can also result in stress incontinence.
What's the best way to manage SUI?
You’ve probably heard of kegel exercises already, and this form of pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) is the recommended primary treatment for SUI. PMFT is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's all about correct technique. Up to 40% of women do their exercises incorrectly, which means you're less likely to get better! This is why we created our advanced pelvic floor training system femfit® by JUNOFEM, which provides accurate, real-time feedback while exercising, via an app on your mobile, alongside our clinically-validated training programme, which is proven to work.
Urge incontinence (UUI)
UUI is leaking of urine associated with urgency. A sudden, and intense need to urinate will come on, and typically, you only have a few seconds before urine is released. It tends to be more common as we age, and can be caused by several factors, including alcohol and caffeine consumption, not drinking enough fluids, constipation, lower urinary tract conditions, neurological conditions, and some medications.
What's the best way to manage UUI?
Bladder training, which involves gradually increasing the storage capacity or size of the bladder, and pelvic floor muscle training can help manage UUI. In some cases, medication may be necessary, and a healthcare provider should be consulted.
Mixed urinary incontinence (MUI)
This is a combination of SUI and UUI, and it's more common among older women. Causes are the same as SUI and UUI, with symptoms including leaking urine when you do things that increase abdominal pressure (remember, things like coughing, sneezing, jumping, or laughing), and after a sudden urge to urinate.
What's the best way to manage MUI?
Management of MUI involves a combination of the methods used to manage SUI and UUI. A healthcare provider can work with you to understand the severity of your condition, and take into consideration things like your individual lifestyle and preferences. Women will often decide which type of UI is impacting their life the most, and seek treatment options from there. There can be side effects from medications for UUI, but the benefits often outweigh these.
No single incontinence treatment works for everyone. Although many women experience incontinence, it is treatable, especially with ongoing support from a qualified pelvic health practitioner, and a tailored treatment plan.