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Urinary Incontinence

Although urinary incontinence affects 30 to 50 percent of women, the condition also affects some men. The rates go up with age, but incontinence among young women is quite common.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a not a disease but a symptom with many possible causes. 

Some common types of urinary incontinence include:

  • Stress incontinence: Urine leakage that happens during activities that cause pressure (or “stress”) on the bladder such as laughing, lifting, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Urge incontinence: Urine leakage that occurs before a woman has a chance to reach the bathroom, in response to an urge to urinate. Women with this type of incontinence may also experience frequent nighttime waking to urinate.

What Causes Urinary Incontinence?  

Pregnancy, vaginal delivery, surgery, radiation, or accidental injury can lead to urinary incontinence. There may be no obvious underlying reason for why bladder control problems occur, but some other causes include:

  • Caffeine
  • Certain occupations (usually those that involve heavy lifting or exertion)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Medications such as diuretics
  • Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or spina bifida, where nerves and/or muscles may not function correctly
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Some lung conditions, where pressure from breathing disorders can increase pressure in the abdomen and pelvis

Treatments for Urinary Incontinence

Eighty to 90 percent of women who seek treatment experience significant improvement. A wide array of treatment options exist, ranging from behavioral and diet changes to surgical options. 

  • Kegel exercises: Numerous studies have shown that learning how to control and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles helps women reduce or eliminate urine leakage. Our specially trained physical therapists can help you learn these exercises.
  • Weight loss: Maintaining healthy body weight is important for normal pelvic floor function. As little as a 5 to 10 percent decrease in weight in women who are overweight or obese will reduce weekly incontinence episodes by more than half.
  • Dietary changes: Drink fluids in moderation; eat plenty of fiber daily to avoid constipation; avoid bladder irritants such as caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some energy drinks; citrus foods and juices; artificial sweeteners; alcoholic drinks.
  • Surgery: Doctors may suggest surgery to improve bladder control if other treatments have failed. The best surgical procedures improve or cure incontinence associated with coughing, laughing, sneezing, and exercising in about 85 percent of women. 

See additional treatments for urinary incontinence. 

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