Oops, I Leaked: Tales of Incontinence
Gotta go all the time? Worried you'll wet your pants if you laugh too hard? You may be suffering from mild incontinence, and you're not alone.
The Personal Side of Incontinence
Meet Tasha Mulligan of Des Moines, Iowa. The physical therapist, athletic trainer, triathlete, and mother of three refused to let mild incontinence slow her down.
"The topic of incontinence isn't one that I have always been focused on, but my own journey through pregnancy and delivery pushed me into the women's health field of physical therapy five years ago. After my delivery, my pelvic floor just didn't bounce back," she tells WebMD. "Then I began to realize that a lot of my female patients would laugh and joke about wetting their pants as I asked them to perform specific exercises. My grandmother talked about her uterine prolapse, and my pregnant friends were asking a lot of questions about why they couldn't hold their bladder. I began to realize the widespread effect of weak pelvic floor muscles."
This revelation -- that women are disproportionately affected by incontinence -- spurred her to action.
"Just like after knee surgery when we have to do exercises to ensure that our quadricep muscle will fire again and resume normal strength, we should also exercise our pelvic floors after the trauma of pregnancy and delivery to keep us continent and 'supported,'" says Mulligan.
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mild Incontinence
"Women absolutely have more incontinence because we are mothers," says Elizabeth Mueller, MD, assistant professor in the department of urology and the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Chicago's Loyola University. "The increased prevalence is simply due to our different anatomies. During pregnancy and labor, nerves are compromised. Sometimes, they can't recover fully."
According to a 2008 study published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association, 25% of women over the age of 20 have a pelvic floor disorder, with urinary incontinence the most common symptom.
Natalie Herback, a physical therapist with Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., says that other symptoms of pelvic floor disorders include difficulty sitting, pain with sexual intercourse, lower back and abdominal pain, and rectal or vaginal pain.
"The most effective weapon in the fight against pelvic floor disorders are Kegel contractions -- exercises that involve the contracting, holding, and releasing the pelvic floor muscles," she says.