Common myths about this urologic condition may prevent people from getting the help they need.
Urinary incontinence is the medical term used to explain a sudden loss of bladder control, leading to unexpected urine leakage. Some people can experience urinary incontinence on occasion when they cough or sneeze, or they feel an intense urge to urinate that comes on so quickly they don’t reach the toilet in time. In other cases, however, when urinary incontinence happens with more regularity, it’s the sign of an underlying condition that requires evaluation.
It may surprise you to learn that urinary incontinence on its own is not a disease. It’s a symptom. When I explain this fact to people, it often surprises them. Some people suffer for years with the symptoms of urinary incontinence, having never gotten to the bottom of what’s causing it, simply because they assumed it was something they’d need to “just deal with.” Nothing can be further from the truth.
While it is true that urinary incontinence tends to occur more often in older people, it should never be dismissed as simply a “normal” part of aging. Because it is a symptom of an underlying condition, it’s crucial to determine precisely what that condition is. Once a proper diagnosis is made, the patient and their provider can take the necessary steps to treat it. Treating the underlying condition aids in the reduction or even the elimination of urinary incontinence as a symptom.
Another important but not well-known consideration about urinary incontinence is that it includes five subtypes associated with unique symptoms. They are as follows:
Stress Incontinence: Occurs when stress, or pressure, is placed on the bladder through activity (exercise, laughing, coughing, or sneezing).
Urge Incontinence: Is characterized by an intense need to urinate, followed by an uncontrollable loss of urine.
Overflow Incontinence: Involves the frequent dribbling of urine due to the bladder’s inability to empty itself fully.
Functional Incontinence: Occurs when a physical or mental impairment prevents an individual from getting to the toilet in time to urinate.
Mixed Incontinence: The experience of one or more types of incontinence.
The symptoms of urinary incontinence are as varied as its underlying causes. In women, causes can range from an untreated urinary tract infection to a prolapse of the pelvic organs. In men, prostate enlargement can be an underlying urinary incontinence cause. For both men and women, obesity can also play a significant role in the development of urinary incontinence. Especially when weight is concentrated in the abdominal area, it can place increased stress and pressure on the bladder and other organs in the area. Some neurological disorders such as a stroke or spinal cord injury can cause problems with the nerve signals that govern bladder control.
No matter the cause, the most crucial place to start a discussion about urinary incontinence symptoms is with a trusted care provider, preferably a urologist. Be sure that this is an individual you trust and can be honest with. There is no shame in discussing urinary incontinence symptoms with a doctor – these are the specific issues we were trained to help alleviate in our patients. And don’t assume that surgery is the only option for fixing the underlying problems associated with urinary incontinence, either.
Depending on the cause, surgery is typically a last resort to treating an underlying condition to alleviate urinary incontinence symptoms. Sometimes, simple dietary tweaks may be all that is needed to achieve symptom reduction or resolution. In addition to lifestyle modifications, and again depending on the cause, Botox injections have also demonstrated success in helping to relax overactive bladder muscles. In cases where surgery is the right next step, the transvaginal sling procedure, minimally-invasive, robot-assisted surgery are designed to repair stretched or weakened pelvic floor muscles to help better support the bladder.
Regardless of the urinary incontinence cause, no one should suffer in silence or be resigned to a life of adult absorbency underwear. There are so many effective ways to treat the conditions that cause urinary incontinence today, no matter a person’s age. Finding a medical provider with the appropriate expertise, skills, and experience is the first step. The next step is to be honest with that individual so that you can get back to living the life you enjoy, worry free.