Female incontinence

About female incontinence

Incontinence affects more women than men. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and the anatomy of a woman’s lower urinary tract are all factors that increase the likelihood of incontinence. Older women experience incontinence more than younger women. However, urinary incontinence should never be accepted as a part normal aging. 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?

  • 80% of all people living with some form of urinary leakage are women 
  • 1.7 million Australian women between the ages of 15 and 50, experience some form of urinary leakage
  • 30% to 50% of women over the age 60 experience some form of urinary leakage.

Women often report a range incontinence types, like a slight leakage of urine when they laugh, cough or sneeze, to frequent and unexpected losses of large amounts of urine. Some women think urinary leakage a part of normal aging and believe nothing can be done to help. This perception needs to change - do not put up with urinary leakage - do something about it. Many women find the help and advice they receive from continence physiotherapist and nurse specialists, make a real difference in preventing the social discomfort of those frequent mad dashes to the bathroom.

Female incontinence types

There are five main types of female incontinence:

  1. Stress incontinence: Stress incontinence occurs when a sneeze, cough or laugh puts extra pressure on your weakened pelvic floor muscles, forcing small amounts of urine to leak out. Stress incontinence is a very common form of incontinence that affects women.
  2. Overflow incontinence: Is when you experience a constant dribbling or flow of urine. Some women with continuous leakage also report that they feel their bladder is never completely empty.
  3. Urge incontinence: This is when the urge to go to the toilet is so sudden and powerful that it gives you very little time to get to the bathroom. 
  4. Urinary Frequency: Refers to the need to empty your bladder much more frequently than you think is normal.
  5. Overactive Bladder: Many women experience a combination of urinary urge and frequency. This condition is known as an overactive bladder syndrome or OAB. OAB can sometimes be accompanied by urinary leakage, OAB-wet and sometimes not, OAB-dry. In many cases OAB is distressing as it effects your social confidence

Your doctor may carry out a variety of tests to determine what type of incontinence you have. One of the things your doctor will do is test your urine to check if your symptoms are caused by a urinary tract infection. They will also ask you to keep a 3-day bladder diary that details the amount of fluids you drink, how often you go to the toilet and how much urine you pass on each visit. You can download a bladder diary by clicking on the link, Treatments of Incontinence.

Female incontinence causes

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

For the older woman, the changes to your hormone levels can dry the sensitive lining of your vagina and urethra, the tube that take urine away from your bladder and weaken your pelvic floor muscles. This increases the likelihood of urinary tract infections as well as urinary frequency.
Other common conditions that contribute to incontinence include:

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) constipation and side effects from some medications. These are some of the most readily treated causes of incontinence. A visit to your doctor often provided very quick, relief.
  • Surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy can sometimes cause urinary incontinence problems. Talk to your surgeon as they are best placed to assist you in your recovery.
  • Disability that effects you movement, chronic conditions, like diabetes and progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease may require more specialised management from a medical specialist or neurological continence nurse advisor.

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, urinary incontinence can be cured, and can always be better 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 350-500mls).
  • 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 is relaxed, the muscle that holds the bladder outlet tube (urethra) shuts tight enabling you to store your urine.
  • 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 support a full bladder. Everyone can 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, these concentrated very small urine volumes train your bladder to hold only small amounts, making your symptoms worse. In addition, inadequate fluid intake can cause constipation, which may also make your urinary control worse.

Kimberly-Clark Australia makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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