Women’s reproductive systems are complex and are designed to create life, while this is a beautiful phenomenon it can cause problems in other areas.
Urinary incontinence is a common problem that many women face, however many choose to hide or refuse to admit to having this condition for a number of reasons.
Feelings of embarrassment or the fear that nothing can be done about it, can cause women to choose to suffer in silence rather than seek diagnosis or treatment.
It’s a common misconception that incontinence can be a symptom of life and the ageing process, and therefore is something that needs to be managed. However, this is not true as there are treatments that can help to minimise discomfort and lessen symptoms.
Let’s delve into this common condition, and see how it can be treated.
What is Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is a condition which causes a lack of bladder control. It is more common in women than men, likely due to the excessive stress imposed on women’s bladders, especially during pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.
Urinary incontinence can cause sufferers to struggle with holding their urine which can lead to them leaking.
There are multiple other types of incontinence including:
- Overactive bladder also known as urge incontinence;
- Mixed incontinence;
- Overflow incontinence;
- Functional incontinence;
- Reflex incontinence.
Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is when urine leaks out with sudden pressure on the bladder and urethra, causing the sphincter muscles to open briefly. Some women are prone to leaking whilst doing certain physical activities, or when they sneeze, cough or laugh.
Many normal bodily functions can increase a woman’s likelihood of developing bladder control problems, luckily though many of the causes aren’t likely to cause long lasting discomfort.
- Pregnancy – As a baby grows they push down a woman’s bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles, weakening them over time.
- Childbirth – Natural births can put extra pressure on pelvic floor muscles and weaken them. Childbirth, whether natural or forceps assisted, can also damage the nerves that control the bladder and pelvic floor muscles, especially if you tear or have an episiotomy.
- Menopause – Not having periods anymore can be a blessing, however estrogen levels drop, possibly weakening the urethra, which reduces the amount of control you have over your bladder function.
- Obesity – Excessive body weight can increase the pressure imposed upon pelvic muscles which can increase bladder pressure and urethral hypermobility.
Other potential and generally short term causes include:
- High caffeine consumption
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your treatment options will depend on the type of incontinence you have and its cause.
In order to get an accurate diagnosis the doctor will need to obtain a full medical history work up and may ask you to keep a bladder diary to get a clearer understanding of your symptoms. They may also need to run further testing, including a urine test or bladder stress test.
Depending on the cause of your incontinence, you may not even need treatment. For example, incontinence related to pregnancy or childbirth will often self correct as the pelvic floor muscles regain their strength.
In the case that your symptoms don’t subside post natal then your doctor can help you look into treatment options. It’s important to speak to your doctor openly about your options and your short and long term expectations.
There are non-invasive treatments that your doctor may want you to try before resorting to surgery, including medications or pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen the muscles.
Doctors can surgically treat SUI with tension-free vaginal tape (TVT) surgery which entails implanting a sling to help close and support the urethra and bladder neck to prevent leakage TVT surgery is minimally invasive and generally only requires you to stay in hospital for one night, as the recovery time is short.
Dr. Kelvin Larwood is a trained obstetrician and gynaecologist who has years of experience with performing laparoscopic, pelvic and vaginal gynaecological surgeries to treat a number of conditions including stress urinary incontinence.
Dr. Larwood is based both in Buderim and Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast.
You can find out more about how Dr. Larwood can assist you here.