Fort Wayne — Stress incontinence is a type of incontinence that involves involuntary leaking of urine from the bladder when it is under pressure.
This condition can develop as the muscles that support the bladder become weaker due to the natural aging process, childbirth or certain medical conditions. Studies have shown that one in three women experiences stress incontinence, and the percentage of affected women increases with age.
“Stress incontinence occurs when pressure is placed on the abdominal area by physical activity such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting a heavy object,” said Scott Boyd, MD, a board-certified urogynecologist with Lutheran Health Physicians Women’s Specialty Care. “When the muscles that hold the bladder and control the flow of urine don’t function properly, accidents can happen – especially if the bladder is full.”
Stress incontinence affects more women than men, and can range from an occasional problem to a medical situation affecting daily routine and limiting participation in social, work or exercise activities. The most common cause of female stress incontinence is damage to tissues or nerves in the pelvic floor area during childbirth – which may show up immediately after having a baby, or several years later, after menopause.
Age-related changes in the strength and function of muscles can make a woman more susceptible to developing stress incontinence. At menopause, the loss of estrogen means that the tissues of the vagina and urethra are more fragile.
Other medical conditions and lifestyle habits can affect the form and function of the bladder and lead to stress incontinence: urinary tract infections, diabetes, chronic bronchitis or asthma, chronic constipation and obesity. Contributing lifestyle factors include excess caffeine or alcohol consumption, smoking (subsequent coughing), medications that increase urine production and high-impact exercise.
More than 60 percent of women with stress incontinence put off discussing the condition with their doctor for a year or more, due to embarrassment, anxiety or lack of knowledge about available treatments.
“Many women assume that the condition is simply something they must deal with as part of the aging process,” Boyd said. “Years ago, surgeries were more invasive and painful, involving a long recovery period. The good news is now most cases are treatable through a variety of options.”
Dr. Boyd also emphasizes patients can ease symptoms with dietary recommendations, a regimen of muscle training exercises, medication, surgery or treatment.
Non-surgical treatment includes lifestyle changes – limiting caffeine, losing weight or quitting smoking – or exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor, known as Kegel exercises. Electrical stimulation and biofeedback helps revitalize injured or tired muscles. Hormone creams can restore tissues to their former thickness and renew their support capabilities.
Bladder surgery is an option to provide support or lift the urethra back to a normal position, which aids in urine retention. However, newer, minimally invasive vaginal surgeries and outpatient procedures give women many more options than ever before.
Learn about Lutheran Health Physicians Urogynecology services online or call (260) 458-3440 to find out more about solutions for urinary incontinence.