Over 13 million women are affected by some loss of bladder control and the incidence of bladder incontinence is 10 to 30 percent in women between the ages of 15 to 64. Did you know on average women wait six years before seeking help for their urinary incontinence?
Bladder incontinence is not something you have to just accept as a consequence of aging. Early treatment can help avoid the need for surgery and go a long way to restore your quality of life. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine confirmed that pelvic floor therapy with bladder retraining is an effective treatment for urinary incontinence in women. Incontinence-trained physical therapists are people who can teach these techniques.
Stress incontinence occurs commonly after childbirth due to stretching of the muscles and structures that support the bladder, allowing urine to leak when coughing or laughing. Urge incontinence makes a woman feel the need to void so strongly she might not make it to the bathroom. Urge incontinence is more common as we age but can occur to women even under the age of 35.
Who can help treat urinary incontinence:
1. First, see your doctor to make sure that the urine incontinence is not due to other medical causes. Ask for a referral to a urologist or a urogynecologist. While most urologists are men, many are women. If you prefer to see a female urologist, a list can be found at http://www.swiu.org/doctors/.
2. A urologist will do studies to help determine what may be causing the bladder problem. These initial tests are called urodynamics to measure the amount of urine that flows out of the bladder, how much is left afterward and how much your bladder will hold when full. The tests should not be painful, though it may be a little uncomfortable. Make sure the doctor explains all the steps so you know what to expect.
3. Before considering any surgery, ask to see a physical therapist that specializes in urinary incontinence. You can also contact the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) at http://www.apta.org. Search “find a PT” and under expertise pick “women’s health” for a list of physical therapists by zip code. One study showed that women who had one-to-one teaching with a physical therapist had far superior outcomes than those who did exercise alone.
4. Kegal exercises (pelvic floor strengthening) and biofeedback are the hallmarks of retraining therapy performed by physical therapists helping with incontinence problems. Most of us have heard about “kegals” for years, but a PT can use biofeedback sensors to check whether you are contracting those muscles correctly and help teach women exactly how to strengthen them. One pelvic therapy PT states she councils her women patients to “squeeze when you sneeze” as one technique to avoid leakage during common daily activities.
5. Diet adjustments may also help bladder incontinence by avoiding coffee or other irritating substances. Many women benefit from bladder retraining where they are taught to first empty their bladder every two hours regardless of urge and build up increased amount of time on a schedule the therapist determines works for each woman.
Don’t let urinary incontinence ruin enjoyment of activities you used to love and make you feel ashamed to seek medical care. With help, you can regain the freedom to laugh without always having to make sure your legs are crossed.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles.