If you live with urinary incontinence, you should not resign yourself to it as a fact of life or sign of aging. While all people experiencing urinary incontinence experience it as a lack of bladder control resulting in some level of urinary leakage, it is usually a symptom of something else. In other words, it is a symptom of a larger condition.
Because of that, it is often possible to reduce the risks of developing it as well as remedying the situation if it does occur. While there are some treatments that may effectively eliminate it for some, they may not work as well for others. And while there are definitely surgical treatments designed to address urinary incontinence, there are also a lot of non-surgical treatments available.
To understand how they work, though, it is necessary to understand how urinary incontinence occurs, as well.
What Happens with Urinary Incontinence?
We think of urinary incontinence as leaking urine, but it is the result of a series of glitches or malfunctions in the urinary tract. Our bodies send waste fluids to the bladder, which is an organ with muscles and nerves. We know when it is full because it expands and puts pressure on the sphincter that holds it closed at the bottom.
Early in life we don’t have control over the function of the bladder and will release urine when the bladder is full. Later, we learn how to control this sphincter and only contract the bladder, opening the sphincter, and releasing urine into the urethra, allowing urine to pass out of the body.
With urinary incontinence, we lose our ability to control that bladder contraction fully and for many reasons, urine may pass into the urethra without our willing it to happen. The reasons are often described as the “type” of incontinence we experience. For example, the most commonly discussed types are:
- Stress incontinence which is when “the pressure inside your bladder as it fills with urine becomes greater than the strength of your urethra to stay closed”. Added pressure caused by coughing or even laughing may cause a urine leak.
- Urge incontinence is when there is an “urgent and frequent need to pass urine…caused by a problem with the detrusor muscles in the walls of the bladder”. The muscles will contract too frequently, making you feel you must get to the toilet, and often fail to make it because the sensation happens only briefly before urine leaks or flows
- Overflow incontinence is when the “bladder may fill up as usual, but as it’s obstructed you won’t be able to empty it completely, even when you try… At the same time, pressure from the urine that’s still in your bladder builds up behind the obstruction, causing frequent leaks”
- Mixed incontinence is when you experience both urge and stress incontinence.
As you can surmise, there are different remedies for such varied causes for urinary leakage.
Basic Treatment for Urinary Incontinence
Before any sort of non-surgical treatments can be used, you must meet with a physician to discuss the symptoms. Many people refrain from doing so out of embarrassment or an erroneous belief that they “should” have the issue because of something else (such as childbirth, prostate surgery, aging, and so on). However, by talking about the condition and type of urinary incontinence with a physician, they can often work with you to develop effective, non-surgical plans.
These will usually start with the most conservative, non-surgical treatments for urinary incontinence, including:
- Lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, eliminating caffeine and alcohol, increasing fiber intake, and so on. Losing weight and increasing daily activity may also be part of the non-surgical treatment because many people experience urinary incontinence simply from being overweight and/or eating a diet that causes constipation. Constipation can actually put pressure on the bladder and cause leakage.
- Pelvic floor muscle work – Many people are aware of exercises known as Kegels, and while they are used to enhance sexual experiences by some, they are also quite remarkable for improving the muscles that support the bladder and urethra. As one expert noted, “Weak or damaged pelvic floor muscles can cause urinary incontinence, so exercising these muscles is often recommended”. Naturally, the strength of the muscles will be assessed and then you will be taught how to perform them. Most programs involve three sessions a day of eight or fewer kegel squeezes. Outlines for performing them can be found here for women, and here for men. Electrical stimulators are available for those who are unable to do Kegels and involves the use of a specialty device that “measures and stimulates the electrical signals in the muscles” and may help strengthen them.
- Bladder training – This is used for young people who struggle to overcome bedwetting, but it is effective as a non-surgical treatment for urinary incontinence, as well. It is often combined with muscle exercises and involves nothing more than increasing the length of time between experiencing an urge to urinate and allowing urine to pass. It may also involve controlled fluid intake that gets the body on a very fixed routine of urine production and release.
In addition to these effective remedies, many will be prescribed medications if they apply to the underlying cause of the incontinence. There are medications for most of the causes, and these may be a last resort before using surgical interventions.
Of course, in addition to the use of non-surgical techniques, there are also many incontinence products that make it far easier to live with mild to even heavy leakage. These include incontinence undergarments that are remarkably discreet, reliable and effective, pads and shields, skin care products, and devices that may be placed inside of the urethra (such as catheters), to control urine flow.
The impact of urinary incontinence on quality of life cannot be ignored. Many living with this issue refrain from socializing out of embarrassment or fear. The steps outlined above can alleviate those fears and eliminate them almost entirely when combined with incontinence products. Though it may end up being an untreatable condition, it is never a condition you cannot enjoy a normal life with.