Often, it starts after the baby's born: You head to aerobics class, ready to shed
those extra pounds, and in the middle of the workout...an accident.
This embarrassing little problem is urinary incontinence, and lots of
women -- regardless of age -- are secretly dealing with it. More than 13
million Americans have incontinence, and women are twice as likely to have it
as men, according the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. About 25% to
45% of women suffer from urinary incontinence, defined as leakage at least once
in the past year. The rates of urinary incontinence increase with age: 20%-30%
of young women , 30%-40% of middle-aged women, and up to 50% of older women
suffer from urinary incontinence.
"It's embarrassing, and it can really affect your quality of life - your
emotional state, body image, sexuality," says
Linda Brubaker, MD, MS, professor of female pelvic medicine at Loyal University
Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Yet many put up with incontinence needlessly, Brubaker tells WebMD. "People
don't realize it's a medical condition, and that there's help. Many women think
it's normal, part of having children or going into menopause."
Though incontinence is "more common than you might think," it's not normal
says Brubaker, who sees teens, and women in their 20s,
30s, or older with this issue. "You don't have to put up with it. There are
often simple solutions that work."
When you can't control the release of your urine, you have urinary
incontinence. For some the problem can be as minor as the rare dribble, for
others as problematic as wetting your clothes. There are four kinds of these
plumbing problems, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Stress incontinence can result from pregnancy and childbirth, when pelvic muscles
and tissues can get stretched and damaged. It can also occur from high-impact
sports, as a result of aging, or from being overweight.
aka "overactive bladder," is a bit different - it's the
urgent need to go, followed by an involuntary loss of urine -- with anything
from a few seconds to a minute's warning. It is thought to be due to spasms of
the bladder muscles.
means you have more than one type of incontinence, with stress and urge
incontinence being the typical mix.
"I think most women have both types," adds Brubaker. "I don't believe
there's as much distinction between the two types as we might think."
If you can't empty your bladder every time you go to the bathroom and
experience a frequent or constant dribbling of urine, you have overflow
Certain medications can cause this problem, and people with nerve damage from diabetes or men with prostate issues can also
experience this type of incontinence.
It is due to impaired bladder muscle contractions or bladder obstructions.