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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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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.

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.

The Power of Kegels for Urine Control

The pelvic floor is a combination of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that support the pelvic organs, including the bladder, vagina, uterus, prostate, and rectum. Muscles in the pelvic floor help support the bladder and hold urine in check. Weak muscles -- from pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, heavy lifting, aging, obesity, or chronic medical conditions -- are more likely to contribute to leaks. 

While conducting interviews for a book he is writing about prostate cancer, Gallagher found out that just six men out of 132 had been told by their doctors to do Kegel exercises. Yet both men and women with stress incontinence can greatly benefit from Kegels.  And the exercises are noninvasive, totally free, and without side effects. 

"A specially trained physical therapist who teaches you how to do the proper Kegel exercises has been the biggest help with [incontinence]," says Susan Mead. The 50-year-old first experienced mild incontinence nine years ago after delivering a 9 1/2 baby. She first tried herbal remedies, but when those failed, she turned to physical therapy. "I always know my routine is slipping if I have that bit of leakage when I sneeze, cough, or laugh," she says.

Treatment Options for Mild to Moderate Incontinence

Rabin encourages those who suffer from incontinence to seek help from a qualified health care practitioner.  

"[This condition] fundamentally affects how we see ourselves. Untreated, it can affect our ability to be intimate [and] contribute to isolation, depression, and obesity. But your life doesn't have to be ruled by your bladder." 

Depending on the severity of incontinence, doctors may prescribe a variety of treatments to patients.

Treatment options for urinary incontinence include medications, nerve stimulation, biofeedback, and insertion devices.

And though it is the most invasive and expensive treatment method, some doctors may recommend surgery for some patients. 

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