Understanding and Managing Urinary Incontinence - PIH Health

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Published on September 29, 2015

Understanding and Managing Urinary Incontinence

Woman sitting in chair with her legs crossed. Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, is a common and embarrassing problem. Approximately a quarter to a third of men and women in the United States suffer currently from urinary incontinence. The exact number of people affected is not known, because many people suffer in silence due to embarrassment or thinking nothing can be done. Most people think incontinence is just part of growing old, but it’s not. It’s a medical condition that can usually be treated or managed.

There are five types of urinary incontinence:

  1. Stress incontinence is the most common type. It occurs when the pelvic floor muscles have stretched and are weakened to let urine escape. Leaking can happen with exercise, walking, bending, lifting or even sneezing or coughing. There are no medications to treat stress incontinence, but it can be managed through Kegel exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. Kegel is performed by squeezing and holding the pelvic muscles for five seconds then releasing for five seconds and repeating for 5-6 times.
  2. Urge incontinence is where the brain tells the bladder to empty, even when it isn’t full. Or the bladder muscles are too active and they contract to pass urine before the bladder is full. The sudden urge to urinate cannot be ignored and happens many times throughout the day and night. Drugs and surgery are some treatment options.
  3. Overflow Incontinence occurs when the body makes more urine than the bladder can hold or the bladder is full but cannot empty, causing leakage. It’s possible that there may be something blocking the urine flow or the bladder muscle cannot contract as it should. This type of incontinence is more common in men who have prostate problems. It may be necessary to use absorbent pads and protective garments for the leaks.
  4. Functional incontinence is caused by physical or mental impairment that keeps a person from making it to the toilet in time.
  5. Mixed Incontinence is when a person has more than one type of urinary incontinence listed above.

There are lifestyle changes that can help to manage incontinence. Quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise, and avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.

Treatment options can range from behavioral management, Kegel exercises, absorbent products and medications to surgery.

“When urinary incontinence starts affecting the quality of life, it’s time to seek medical advice,” said Janet Staples-Edwards MD, internal medicine physician at PIH Health Montebello Medical Office Building. “Doctors can correctly diagnose the condition and recommend the appropriate treatment option.”

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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