This is often a taboo subject that no-one really admits to, but the fact is 1 in 3 women will experience bladder leaks in some form, regardless of age (as is a common misconception). So ladies please, we need to talk about how to spot the symptoms of bladder weakness and pinpoint the reasons as to why you might be suffering from this.
Firstly, did you know there are many different types of urinary incontinence (UI), and these have different causes which can affect ANY of us? The following categories may help you to identify what symptoms resonate with the issues you are simply putting up with (until now hopefully!)
This is when urine (or sometimes faecal matter) can leak under certain pressure when the pelvic floor is unable to control the bladder/sphincter muscles effectively. This can occur through exercise and lifting, or simple movements such as laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercising.
Stress incontinence is caused when the pelvic floor muscles or the sphincter muscles have become weakened. Pregnancy and childbirth are often the main culprits here, however, this can also happen to women who have never been pregnant too. Women seem to have been taught to be embarrassed about leaking and come to accept it as ‘normal’, however, our bodies are amazing at responding to treatment and this CAN be prevented from worsening by getting help.
Is a strong urgent need to urinate that comes on suddenly, and cannot be ignored. This can also be known as an overactive bladder. You will likely need to urinate more frequently than normal, so this will happen numerous times throughout the day and even at night.
Urge incontinence occurs when the urinary bladder contracts when it shouldn't, causing some urine to leak through the sphincter muscles holding the bladder closed. It is much harder to pinpoint the exact cause by your doctor based on the fact there are multiple. However, conditions such a bladder infection, bladder inflammation, obstruction to an opening of the bladder, bladder cancer, and neurological conditions could be some of the causing factors.
This condition is when you're unable to completely empty your bladder, leading to the 'overflow' leaking out unexpectedly. You may not even feel the desire to urinate when the leaks occur, which makes this particularly hard to manage. You should be aware there's a high risk of suffering from frequent Urinary Tract Infections due to the bacteria in your bladder from the leftover urine.
This is actually more common in men. However, women can still suffer from overflow incontinence too because of blockages to the urethra as a result of tumours, bladder stones or scar tissue. A prolapsed bladder or bowel can also be a cause, as well as nerve damage from giving birth, previous surgery, or certain diseases. Ageing may also be a factor too.
Those suffering from functional incontinence are usually aware of the need to urinate but are unable to make it to the toilet in time. Therefore there isn't an exact cause for this type of UI as it's usually as a result of another health condition that has prevented that person from making it to the toilet.
This can be common for people with back pain, arthritis or Parkinson's disease, and wheelchair users. Functional incontinence can also arise in people who cannot communicate the desire to urinate properly such as those with Alzheimer's or dementia.
This is a mixture of the different types of incontinence mentioned above.
With so many different causes for incontinence, it can still be confusing as to why our bodies have reacted in such a way. Let’s take a look at some of the ways our pelvic floor and bladder can suffer trauma leading to incontinence further;
Pregnancy and Childbirth
During pregnancy, your hormones change which can affect the lining of your bladder and your urethra, and work to stretch your pelvic floor. Coupled with the extra weight of your baby putting pressure on your bladder this can lead to leaks during pregnancy.
Obviously childbirth is a huge stress on your vagina. In the process of labour and the baby moving out of your vagina, this stretches your pelvic floor muscles. Your hormones that changed during pregnancy have already done their work in stretching your pelvic floor muscles too, so it's a double whammy of a hit.
Other factors are damage to the nerves of the bladder and supportive tissue. The urethra and bladder have moved during pregnancy. And in some cases during labour, the pelvic floor muscle will need to be cut to make it easier for the baby to come out.
So it's no wonder your poor pelvic floor is suffering during pregnancy and postpartum recovery!
During menopause, your ovaries stop producing estrogen which controls your menstrual cycle. Your body kind of gets a break from working so hard, which in turn your vaginal tissue becomes less elastic. The lining of your urethra begins to thin, and your pelvic floor muscles naturally weaken. All of which can lead to bladder leaks.
As we age, just like other parts of our body not functioning as usual, the pelvic floor muscles naturally weaken with age.
There is a possibility during the procedure to remove the uterus, the pelvic floor muscles that support the uterus may be damaged leading to bladder leaks. It’s also good to be aware there is evidence that suggests incontinence may be a side effect years after surgery.
These can lead to a neurogenic bladder, which causes problems to the nervous system affecting the bladder. Health conditions such as a stroke, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis or a brain tumour can all lead to a neurogenic bladder.
In some severe cases, surgery will be an option to help cure incontinence. Changes to your diet, and cutting out certain foods and drinks that irritate the bladder can be beneficial. As well as weight loss to ease extra pressure to the bladder.
Training your bladder by noting how often you need to urinate, then slowly adding 15 minutes in between each visit to the toilet will be helpful.
How can Kegels help?
A great way to maintain a strong pelvic floor, either as a preventative measure, or to regain pelvic floor strength are kegel weights. Most women who commit to a good pelvic floor training programme see incredible results and start to see noticeable changes within a short period of time. You can read about how hundreds of women have experienced life-changing benefits of resolving their pelvic floor dysfunction with our Pear Drops here .
Whilst some women do need the help of an internal pelvic floor therapist, the majority of women will be able to help themselves with the right weights, programme, and commitment to eliminating their distressing symptoms and refusing to accept it as the norm!
As with all health conditions, it is always best to consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.