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What a Relief

Understanding urinary incontinence in women

By P. J. Ellison

When an ailment is linked to human waste, it can be tough to talk about and, in turn, diagnose. “I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t even tell my best friend,” says Sylvie, a 45-year-old from Lasalle. “In my head, I could hear all of the diaper jokes.”

Urinary Incontinence (UI) is nothing to be ashamed of. Literally millions of women live with UI every day. Of course, men do too, but according to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, UI is twice as common in women. The main reasons include pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.

“I was told to expect some incontinence post-childbirth,” says Martine, a 30-year-old with three children. “It’s normal. Weakened pelvic muscles and damaged nerves will do that. After all, it is a form of trauma. But after my third kid, I just saw it as another joy of childbirth,” says Martine with a laugh.

Most bladder control problems dissipate after the first six weeks after childbirth. But infection of the urinary tract or bladder can also cause incontinence. Sudden weight gain can also bring on UI, what with the added pressure on the bladder. Severe trauma or diseases like multiple sclerosis and diabetes can cause nerve damage, which in turn can send mixed signals to the bladder.

Many women experience bladder control issues once they hit menopause. This is when the female body stops producing estrogen, a hormone which some medical experts believe keeps the urethral strong. When estrogen wanes, so too does the strength of the urethra.

Now it’s time to know the exact kind of UI that is present. Stress incontinence involves leakage whenever one sneezes, coughs, laughs, or lifts something heavy. This is the most common type of incontinence in women.

Urge incontinence or “overactive bladder” is a strong, sudden urge to urinate. Sometimes this urge occurs within minutes of visiting the bathroom. Women who suffer from dementia might experience functional incontinence, meaning there’s difficulty speaking or being mobile enough to reach a toilet in time.

Overflow incontinence is just that: an overflow of urine because the bladder doesn't empty completely. Overflow incontinence is less common in women. Transient incontinence, on the other hand, is quite common in women. Bladder infections and pregnancy can bring on urine leakage for a short time.

“I understand why some women have a hard time talking about this with their doctors let alone family or friends,” says Sylvie. “But believe me when I say, it’s a relief, pun intended.” Indeed, millions of women experience some form of incontinence and many of them are successfully treated everyday.

Treatments range from the simple to the complex, but the key is to get started. Your doctor might suggest anything from changing basic behaviours and medicinal treatment to nerve stimulation. Relief is in knowing.

 

Summer 2017, Vol 9 N°3

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