Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It’s a common problem thought to affect millions of people.
There are several types of urinary incontinence, including:
- stress incontinence – when urine leaks out at times when your bladder is under pressure; for example, when you cough or laugh
- urge incontinence – when urine leaks as you feel a sudden, intense urge to pee, or soon afterwards
- overflow incontinence (chronic urinary retention) – when you’re unable to fully empty your bladder, which causes frequent leaking
- total incontinence – when your bladder cannot store any urine at all, which causes you to pass urine constantly or have frequent leaking
It’s also possible to have a mixture of both stress and urge urinary incontinence.
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
See a GP if you have any type of urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem and you should not feel embarrassed talking to them about your symptoms.
This can also be the first step towards finding a way to effectively manage the problem.
Urinary incontinence can usually be diagnosed after a consultation with a GP, who will ask about your symptoms and may do a pelvic or rectal examination, depending on whether you have a vagina or a penis.
The GP may also suggest you keep a diary in which you note how much fluid you drink and how often you have to urinate.
CAUSES OF URINARY INCONTINENCE
Stress incontinence is usually the result of the weakening of or damage to the muscles used to prevent urination, such as the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter.
Urge incontinence is usually the result of overactivity of the detrusor muscles, which control the bladder.
Overflow incontinence is often caused by an obstruction or blockage in your bladder, which prevents it from emptying fully.
Total incontinence may be caused by a problem with the bladder from birth, a spinal injury, or a small, tunnel like hole that can form between the bladder and a nearby area (fistula).
Certain things can increase the chances of urinary incontinence, including:
- pregnancy and vaginal birth
- a family history of incontinence
- increasing age – although incontinence is not an inevitable part of ageing
TREATING URINARY INCONTINENCE
Initially, a GP may suggest some simple measures to see if they help improve your symptoms.
These may include:
- lifestyle changes such as losing weight and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol
- pelvic floor exercises, where you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by squeezing them
- bladder training, where you learn ways to wait longer between needing to urinate and passing urine
You may also benefit from the use of incontinence products, such as absorbent pads and handheld urinals.
Medicine may be recommended if you’re still unable to manage your symptoms.