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
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.