Most of us prefer to think incontinence is something that happens to other people. Sure, we might leak once in a while when we sneeze or exercise. But that’s not incontinence—is it?
Indeed it is, says Dr. Rujin Ju, a Kettering Health urogynecologist who sees patients at Southwest Ohio Urogynecology.
“If urine is leaving your body without your permission, that’s incontinence,” she says. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But you should mention it to your doctor, especially if it’s affecting your quality of life.”
Women who have problems with leakage may experience stress incontinence, urge incontinence, or both.
- Stress incontinence happens when you cough, sneeze, jump, lift something heavy, or anything that causes pressure on your bladder.
- Urgency incontinence is when you have a strong feeling that you need to urinate, and you leak urine before you can get to the toilet. People with urgency incontinence may need to urinate often during the day and night.
Menopause and leakage
Although urinary incontinence can affect adult women at any age, it is much more common after menopause.
“After menopause, your estrogen level drops, which causes vaginal support tissues to become thinner and less healthy,” Dr. Ju says. “Also, as we age, our bodies are less tolerant of bladder irritants such as caffeine, nicotine, and spicy foods. This bladder irritation can cause leakage.”
Urinary incontinence is rarely a red flag for something life-threatening, Dr. Ju says. But she encourages women to see a doctor if it is interfering with daily life.
“Treatment often can eliminate leaking, or at least minimize it,” she says. “Going to see your OB-GYN or primary care doctor is a good start. They can evaluate and refer you to a urogynecologist like me if needed.”
How to be kind to your bladder
Recommendations for urinary incontinence may include
- Changing your diet to reduce caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and acidic foods (such as citrus fruits and tomatoes)
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight
- Participating in pelvic floor physical therapy
- Doing Kegel exercises
Kegel exercises reduce incontinence by strengthening the muscles that support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. Dr. Ju says it’s easy to do Kegels incorrectly, which is why she often sends her patients to a pelvic floor physical therapist for instruction.
“Doing Kegels is a good, lifelong practice, and sometimes that’s all you need to take care of leakage issues,” she says.
“You can do Kegels while simply sitting or standing at work or home. You can do them during your daily commute. They are also great to incorporate into your core-engaging exercises such as Pilates or CrossFit. They’ll protect you while you’re exercising and improve muscle tone at the same time.”