Female incontinence

About female incontinence

Incontinence affects women almost twice as much as men. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and the anatomy of a woman’s urinary tract are all factors that increase the likelihood of incontinence. Women in their twilight years may experience incontinence more so than younger women. However, female incontinence is not unavoidable with old age. Incontinence is manageable and often treatable, no matter what age or physical condition you are in. In a study carried out by the Medical Journal of Australia, it was found that almost 2 million Australian women over the age of 18 suffer from incontinence.

Did you know?

  • Between the ages of 18 and 44, approximately 24% of women experience incontinence
  • For women over age 60, approximately 23% deal with incontinence
  • The problem is more common in women than men
  • Half of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence

The severity of female incontinence can range between a slight leakage of urine when you laugh, cough or sneeze, to frequent loss of large amounts of urine. Some women think it’s a part of normal development and don’t view it as an actual medical condition, which it certainly is. This leads many female incontinence sufferers to ‘grin and bear’ the discomfort and frequent mad dashes to the bathroom rather than seek help or medical advice. This is a perception that needs to be changed.

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Depend® Real-Fit Underwear for Women product photo

Female incontinence types

There are three main types of female incontinence:

  1. Stress incontinence: Stress incontinence occurs when an external pressure or force like a sneeze, cough or laugh puts pressure on an already weakened bladder and surrounding muscles, forcing urine to leak out. Generally, this variety of female incontinence only results in small leakages, although, depending on your level of activity, these leaks may be more frequent. Stress incontinence is the most prevalent form of incontinence affecting women.
  2. Overflow incontinence: You may be suffering from overflow incontinence if you feel that you can never truly empty your bladder and have a constant dribbling or very small leakage of urine at regular intervals.
  3. Urge incontinence: This is when the urge to go to the toilet is so sudden and powerful that it often allows you very little time to get to the bathroom. As a result, urine leakage may occur. This kind of female incontinence is also known as an overactive bladder.

Your doctor may carry out a variety of tests to determine if you have incontinence, and if so, what variety of female incontinence you have. One of the things your doctor may ask you to do is keep a bladder diary that details how often you go to the toilet and how much urine you expel on each visit. Analysis of your urine may also be carried out to ascertain if you have any urinary tract infections.

Female incontinence causes

During childbirth, pushing a baby through the birth canal places all sorts of stretching pressures on most of the pelvic organs. Some women seem to be able to withstand this stretching better than others.

The damage of childbirth can be worsened by such things as long term coughing or sneezing, constipation and increased body mass. In addition, menopause, with its decreasing hormone levels can also contribute to incontinence.
Some other common causes for women include:

  • UTIs and bladder infections, constipation and medication side effects are some of the most readily treated causes of short-term incontinence. Following a visit to your doctor, relief is usually quick.
  • Surgical procedures can sometimes cause long-term incontinence. Recovery from these causes may affect the rate at which continence is restored.
  • Birth defects, progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic conditions may require ongoing management of the related symptom of incontinence.

It’s important to understand that incontinence is not an inevitable part of aging, nor is it necessary to accept long-term incontinence after bearing a child. In many cases, it can be cured, and it can always be managed.

Find out more about incontinence causes.

Female anatomy

To understand the problem, it helps to understand how your waterworks actually function.

  • Kidneys filter urine from the blood and this is stored in your bladder.
  • The bladder is a hollow muscular organ that holds the urine until you decide that you feel full (hopefully at about 300mls).
  • When you reach the toilet, you relax your pelvic floor muscles and your brain gives permission for the bladder muscle to contract, squeezing the urine out through the urethra – the tube from the bladder to the outside.
  • When the bladder muscle contracts, the muscle that holds the bladder outlet tube (urethra) shut during storage (called the sphincter), relaxes to allow the urine to pass through.
  • The whole system is supported by the muscles of the pelvic floor that run from the tip of your tailbone through to the pubic bone (the front bone of your pelvis)

Many women with incontinence have weakened or damaged pelvic floor muscles, and may not be able to sense when their bladders are full, which leads to difficulty in controlling urination. Many women are able to gain back some strength in these muscles by learning and practicing Pelvic Floor Exercises.

Urine is about 95% water and 5% waste. Some people incorrectly believe that by drinking less fluid, they will reduce their bladder control loss. In fact, urine that is more concentrated due to lack of fluid intake can irritate the bladder and cause more serious problems such as infection and dehydration. In addition, inadequate fluid intake can cause constipation, which may also make matters worse.