This is a collaborative post.
Incontinence has, for too long, been a hidden problem. It is also a condition that is assumed will affect the older person and that women are more prone to it than men.
The truth is that incontinence is more common in women, but this doesn’t mean that it is not reversible or treatable. Finally, women are receiving the help that they need but why is it more common for females?
What is urinary incontinence?
Incontinence is described as the unintentional loss of urine. It may happen when you cough, sneeze or do something that places pressure on the abdomen area. The muscles are too weak to be able to stop a loss of urine. This is known as stress incontinence.
There are other kinds of incontinence too, such as urge incontinence where you cannot hold urine when your body tells you to urinate.
There are other reasons why women – and men – suffer from incontinence. Surgical damage or medical conditions are two reasons why holding urine can be problematic.
Why are women more likely to suffer from incontinence?
Aside from medication, illness and surgical damage, women are more likely to suffer from a type of urinary incontinence for three reasons;
Pregnancy is a time of great changes in the female body. From the moment the egg is fertilised, it triggers a range of hormonal reactions in the body.
This is so the fertilised egg implants in the right place and that the body nurtures the egg into a foetus and then into a baby.
Hormones also trigger labour, as well as breast milk production and more.
But the surge in pregnancy hormones can also irritate the pelvic floor muscle. This is the sling-like muscle that runs from the front of the body, by the pubic bone, to the back. It keeps the abdominal organs in place, including the bladder.
This muscle also helps you to control the bladder, when to release urine and when not to. When this is weakened or irritated, there can be a loss of bladder control.
Urinary incontinence in pregnant women is also common when the baby is nearly full term and its weight is pressing down on the bladder, making more difficult to control when you urinate.
Labour and birth are two big events that impact the female body. Whether a mother gives birth vaginally or by Caesarean section, the pelvic floor muscle can be weakened.
Again, a weak pelvic floor is a major contributory factor in urinary incontinence.
The good news is, that most women regain control of the bladder a few weeks after giving birth. This is as a result of hormone levels returning to normal and performing pelvic floor exercises. In the meantime, many women use discreet incontinence pads to help them manage any occasional loss of urine.
However, there are rare occasions in which the pelvic floor muscle is damaged during labour or birth and this can lead to urinary incontinence that may require further medical or surgical treatment.
Some menopausal women report changes in their urinary functions. Doctors believe that this happens for two reasons;
- The reduction of the female hormone estrogen – the reason why menopause happens – reduce the urinary tract’s ability to control urination
- Age also means that the pelvic area organs and tissues can also begin to deteriorate, although this is not inevitable.
Menopausal or post-menopausal women may need to urinate more frequently or be unable to control the bladder, leading to the escape of urine. It also causes the vagina to become itchy and dry, with some women reporting an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) too.
Most types of urinary incontinence can be treated and, in many cases, can be reversed entirely.
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the important pelvic floor muscle leading to fewer ‘accidents’. Likewise, managing incontinence with pads during pregnancy can help. And there are options for menopausal women too, including topical estrogen applications for the vagina.
There are surgical options too, something that is shown to work for the majority of people suffering from severe and ongoing urinary incontinence.
And there is better news too as research and medical studies are finding better and more ways of helping women to overcome urinary incontinence. If you notice that you are occasionally leaking urine, talk to your GP about what treatment options could help you.