What is Urinary Incontinence?
A leak here and here happens to us all, but when it happens a lot—or when it feels like a waterfall down there—it might be urinary incontinence (UI). It's a common occurrence in people of all ages, but it doesn't have to be.
What is UI?
UI is the loss of bladder control, where you have anything from an occasional urine leak when laughing or coughing to a full-blown race to the bathroom when you have to go so badly that you fear you can't wait.
There are five main types of UI:
- Stress incontinence: This happens when urine leaks from added pressure to the abdomen after coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting heavy objects, or exercising.
- Urge incontinence: This is a sudden and persistent urge to urinate. It's commonly known as overactive bladder.
- Overflow incontinence: This occurs when the bladder doesn't completely empty during regular urination and instead dribbles out in between trips to the bathroom.
- Functional incontinence: This is related to another health condition, such as arthritis, which can prevent you from making it to the bathroom in time.
- Mixed incontinence: This is often a combination of stress and urge incontinence.
What causes UI?
Age is probably the biggest risk factor for UI, as it becomes more common in both women and men as we age and lose strength in the bladder and urethra. But because women's internal body structures are so flexible (looking at you, childbirth!), they're much more likely to get UI at some point in their lives due to a weakening of the urinary system.
However, body changes due to pregnancy and childbirth aren't the only causes of UI. It could also happen because of:
- Excessive fluid intake
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles
UI can also be caused by diet, as certain types of foods act as natural diuretics that stimulate the bladder. These include:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Carbonated drinks
- Citrus fruits
- Vitamin C-rich foods in high doses
Underlying medical conditions can also be factors, including UTIs, which irritate the bladder; constipation; neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis; and other medical conditions like diabetes.
If left untreated, UI can lead to skin rashes and infections, sleep loss, UTIs, and an inability to perform or engage in daily activities, which can have a significant negative impact on overall quality of life.
How can you prevent and treat UI?
Similar to so many other health conditions, prevention is possible with diet and exercise. UI can be avoided by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Doing regular exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor
- Avoiding diuretics like artificial sweeteners and caffeine
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Eating more fiber to avoid constipation
UT treatment runs the spectrum, from Kegel exercises to Botox injections to implanted mesh material that supports the bladder. If you think you might have UI, talk to your doctor so you can discuss treatment options and get on the road to recovery.