Urinary incontinence affects one out of three women in the United States. Factors such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can trigger urinary incontinence. Since it is such a delicate issue, countless women won’t mention their symptoms to doctors and often suffer in silence.
“Urinary incontinence is more common of a health issue than women think, therefore, they should seek help to ensure that they receive the proper treatment for a more comfortable and happier life,” said Dr. Sue Zhou, a urogynecologist at Flushing Hospital Medical Center.
What is urinary incontinence and how is it diagnosed?
Urinary incontinence happens if the bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine. There are several different types of incontinence. However, the most commonly noted forms of UI are stress, urge and functional incontinence.
Stress incontinence happens when coughing, sneezing, exercising, laughing, heavy lifting or other movements place pressure on the bladder. Urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder, is the leakage that occurs after a sudden urge to urinate often at unexpected moments, such as in your sleep or after drinking water.
Lastly, functional incontinence is more common among the elderly or those who have problems with thinking or moving quickly enough, which may keep them from reaching the toilet in time.
During an exam, your physician will look for signs of health problems that can cause incontinence and will check for an infection. Treatment can vary from person to person depending on the type of incontinence and the effects it may have on your day-to-day routine.
By conducting several different tests such as a bladder stress test, urinalysis or ultrasound, your physician can determine if the cause of your incontinence is anatomical or neurological. If anatomical, possible treatment can include a minimally invasive procedure described as the sling method. This operation is an ambulatory procedure and you would be able to return home the same day.
If neurological, there are several different approaches to relieve incontinence, including pelvic muscle exercises (Kegel exercises), medications, bladder retraining, or methods that include neuromodulation. Zhou compares this method to a pacemaker, but instead the neurostimulation piece is called an interstim. This provides electrical stimulation of the nerves to control the bladder and has a high success rate.
Another highly recommended treatment for young women, as described by Zhou, is a group of injections into the lining of the urethra or the neck of the bladder which acts as a bulking agent by either bringing the walls of the urethra closer together or sealing off the base of the bladder. The result is similar to the way the body functions naturally, and in most cases, urinary control will be improved and restored. If a patient is allergic to collagen, other bulking agents are available.
How can I prevent urinary incontinence?
Preventing urinary incontinence begins with taking care of yourself. Zhou offers the following recommendations:
• Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol. These cause the bladder to fill quickly and possibly cause leakage.
• Monitor your weight. Excessive weight gain can place more pressure on your bladder and nearby muscles.
• Eat a balanced diet. Dietary changes or a high-fiber diet can help you avoid chronic constipation, which also causes pressure on the bladder.
• If you are within the age of menopause, hormone therapy can cause more stress or worsening of UI. Please speak in confidence with your doctor about your changes.
For more information about women’s health services or to set up an appointment with a Flushing Hospital OB/GYN, call (718) 670-5440.