Urinary incontinence is generally defined as the loss of bladder control. It refers to the involuntary leakage of urine. The leakage may range from a slight loss of urine control to a complete loss of control. It is a condition that can affect people of all ages but its incidence increases with age. Significant incontinence issues may require further medical intervention while minor leakage can be managed and the discomfort alleviated with the help of products like mens incontinence underwear.
There are five types of urinary incontinence; stress, mixed, urge, overflow and functional urinary incontinence. It can happen for many reasons such as; diet, pregnancy, age, gender (women are more likely to get urinary incontinence than men are), an enlarged prostate, nerve damage or diseases such as arthritis and obesity. Incontinence affects over 33 million men and women around the world.
There are several modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for the development of urinary incontinence. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors are like;
- Age: the incidence of urinary incontinence has been shown to increase with age.
- Gender: women are more likely to get urinary incontinence than men are.
- Pregnancy: as the uterus expands to accommodate the growing baby; it can either displace the bladder or apply excessive pressure on the bladder. This can result in urinary incontinence.
- Menopause: as women near menopause, the levels of their reproductive hormones begin to drop. These hormones are Estrogen and Progesterone. Estrogen has many functions in the body and one of them includes keeping the bladder and the urethra healthy, therefore, during the premenopausal period, women may develop urinary incontinence as the hormonal levels begin to fall.
- Physical and mental disabilities such as Diabetes, Parkinson’s’ disease- these conditions may affect the nerves which may affect the bladder’s ability to hold urine.
- Gynecological surgery: surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy or radiological treatment around the pelvic region can damage the nerves in the pelvic region. Some of these nerves are important in maintaining continence and this can then result in the development of urinary incontinence in women.
There are several risk factors that can be managed by a few changes in one’s lifestyle or medical management before it gets out of hand. Some of these modifiable risk factors include;
Just like in pregnant women, being overweight increases pressure on the abdomen which results in an increase in bladder pressure. This may result in the various types of urinary incontinence but in particular, it causes the stress type of incontinence. Obesity may cause weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and cause strain on the nerves as well as other pelvic structures. According to statistics, a 5- unit increase in one’s BMI results in a 20- 70% increase in the risk of developing urinary incontinence.
Losing a few pounds especially around the abdominal area may serve to relieve some pressure on the bladder. Consult your doctor or nutritionist on healthy ways to lose weight to avoid urinary incontinence later in life or to reverse it in cases it has already happened. Working out, eating a healthy diet with the right proportions of food could avoid this and many other health conditions. In cases where one cannot lose weight through physical exercise, surgical methods are also available. A normal BMI is one that is between 18.5 and 24.9 and it is advisable to ensure that one maintains it within those limits.
Smoking has been shown to irritate the bladder and may result in urinary incontinence. There are many conditions that can occur as a result of smoking such as kidney cancer, bladder cancer, interstitial cystitis and urinary incontinence. Aside from causing urinary incontinence, smoking has been shown to be one of the leading causes of premature death in many countries around the world due to all the diseases it results in. Giving up a smoking habit is a difficult thing to do and it is important to enlist the help of family, friends or your doctor to help in this journey. Some of the tips that can be used include; avoiding triggers, chewing gum which keeps the mouth busy and helps fight the tobacco craving or trying nicotine- replacement methods such as using a nicotine patch, chewing nicotine gum or getting prescription non-nicotine stop-smoking medications such as Bupropion.
Certain drinks like caffeine, fizzy drinks, alcohol and artificially sweetened drinks are examples of bladder stimulants. Excessive consumption of such drinks has been shown to increase the risk of developing urinary incontinence. Caffeine, which is a diuretic, promotes diuresis within the body and over time, this can result in urgency- related urinary incontinence. Alcohol also has a diuretic effect and causes the bladder muscles to relax, both of which can cause involuntary leakage of urine. It is important to regulate consumption of alcohol and caffeine due to their diuretic mode of action on the kidney.
Some of the physical exercises performed exert excess physical strain on the pelvic floor muscles and may damage them. Workouts that involve the use of weights or starting and stopping are some examples of exercises that may result in urinary incontinence. As we perform these workouts, we increase abdominal pressure which in turn increases bladder pressure. This can especially be damaging in women more than it is in men. It is therefore advisable to moderate the kind of exercises we do.
During constipation, the strain used can weaken the pelvic floor muscles which are vital for bladder control. Whenever one experiences constipation, it is advisable to manage it promptly to avoid developing urinary incontinence among other health conditions such as muscular dystrophy and hypercalcemia. Some of the ways to manage constipation include;
- Drinking adequate amounts of fluid during the day (approximately 3liters of water a day)
- Incorporating fiber into one’s diet (foods that contain fiber include; oatmeal, apples, beans, nuts and citrus fruits).
- Eating more organic foods as opposed to processed foods as organic foods contain more vitamins, fiber and healthy fats.
- In case the constipation is not managed by a change of diet, use of laxatives can be employed such as; lactulose, bisacodyl and polyethylene glycol. Drugs should be taken upon consultation with a doctor, pharmacist or nutritionist.
In as much as we are advised to ensure we hydrate our bodies, drinking too much water can also result in urinary incontinence; in particular, urgency-related urinary incontinence. This is because the amount of fluid held by your bladder over a short period of time is increased. Overhydrating our bodies can cause many health conditions such as edema, excessive strain on the heart and bladder irritation. Several factors may lead one to take too much water such as taking medicine that causes a dry mouth, being on a diet that requires the intake of copious amounts of water among others. It is advisable to take about 2-3 liters of water a day unless instructed otherwise by a doctor. Taking small amounts of water throughout the day is recommended to avoid irritating the bladder or worsening any bladder disease there may be.
Bio: Anna Williams has worked in aged care for over a decade and now enjoys a slower paced life writing for Zorbies and volunteering locally. She loves to cook, and spends her weekends exploring hiking trails with her 2 beloved pups.