Urinary incontinence is a health problem that has many different causes and for which there is no single solution. For women, incontinence may occur for a number of reasons – including injury, childbirth, ageing, obesity or long-term inactivity.
Types of urinary incontinence include:
- Stress incontinence – occurs when small amounts of urine leak when a person laughs, coughs, sneezes, or plays sport.
- Urge incontinence – involves a sudden and overwhelming need to urinate even when the bladder is not full.
- Overflow incontinence – when the bladder does not completely empty and small leaks occur as a result.
- Incontinence from a urinary tract infection – which can often be treated with antibiotics.
Some women report suffering from incontinence as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, or after menopause when the supply of the oestrogen hormone – which helps maintain the urethral lining – is reduced. This can lead to weakening of the pelvic floor – those muscles that wrap around and support the bladder, rectum and uterus, in a way a bit like a sling or hammock. In these cases, exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor may reduce or even solve the incontinence problem.
Identifying the pelvic floor muscles
This is not always easy to do without directions! One way to do so is as follows:
- Sit or lie down and relax.
- Squeeze your back passage as if you are trying to stop wind passing, without squeezing other muscles such as the buttocks.
- Next imagine you are trying to stop urine from passing, which should make you more aware of the muscles at the front.
Doing the exercises
This involves squeezing the pelvic floor muscles tightly and holding them for several seconds, relaxing and repeating several times. When squeezing, you should try to feel the muscles pulling ‘up’ in a lifting motion inside. The exercises can be done sitting, standing or lying down, and should be done for a few minutes every day for best results.
How long do they take to work?
Pelvic floor strengthening is not a quick-fix. It may take several weeks of daily exercises to see results in some cases. If no results are apparent then the problem may have another cause, and you should get a prompt diagnosis. On the other hand it could be that you are not doing the exercises correctly, in which case you might benefit from seeking help from a specialist in urinary incontinence.
Other options for treating incontinence include medication, if the problem is due to an infection, or surgical procedures such as sub-urethral sling surgery that forms a kind of ‘cradle’ under the urethra. Sling surgery can provide a very effective solution many cases of ongoing incontinence.
A word of caution
The above information is guidance only. If you have an ongoing urinary incontinence problem it’s important to seek professional help so that you can get the right treatment for your particular condition.