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Frequently Asked Questions About Female Urinary Incontinence

  • What is urinary incontinence?
  • Answer:

    Urinary incontinence is the accidental leakage of urine. There are four types of urinary incontinence. One of the most common is stress urinary incontinence, in which you leak urine when lifting objects, coughing, laughing, sneezing, or exercising. Another common type, urge urinary incontinence, (also called overactive bladder) is the sudden urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. It's thought that most women have mixed incontinence -- a mix of stress and urge incontinence. Less common than these is overflow incontinence, where your bladder doesn't empty fully and you frequently dribble urine. Overflow urinary incontinence can be caused by diabetes nerve damage, medications, uterine or vaginal wall prolapse, or other conditions.

  • Is female urinary incontinence inevitable with age?
  • Answer:

    Although female urinary incontinence does occur more often in older women, you can take steps to minimize or even avoid the problem. Maintain a normal weight -- a body mass index (BMI) of below 25 -- since being overweight strains the pelvic floor. If you're carrying an extra 50 pounds or more, you are at higher risk for female urinary incontinence. Cigarette smoking also raises your risk because chronic smoking tends to lead to chronic coughs, which can also weaken pelvic floor muscles.

  • Don't many women "leak" a little from time to time?
  • Answer:

    You're right, many women -- young and old -- have a little leakage now and then. If it happens infrequently, it's not a problem. But when female urinary incontinence becomes a bother to you (or those you live with), or when it interferes with exercise, sexual intimacy, or socializing, it's time to ask your doctor for an evaluation and then to explore treatment options. Ignoring the problem of urinary incontinence won't make it go away, it may only make you feel isolated or depressed. Talk to your doctor and get help.

  • Can what I drink cause urinary incontinence?
  • Answer:

    There are many causes for urinary incontinence. But one may surprise you: drinking too many fluids. Though we're all taught that drinking lots of water is healthy, overdoing it can actually lead to problems. Unless you're an extreme athlete, keep your daily fluid intake (of all types of drinks) to about 50 or 60 ounces -- more if you're exercising or in hot weather. And since caffeine increases the flow of urine from the body and is a muscle stimulant to boot, try limiting or avoiding caffeinated drinks if you have urinary incontinence. Be sure to talk to your doctor before any major changes in your fluid intake.

  • Can female urinary incontinence be cured?
  • Answer:

    In the early stages, female urinary incontinence is often reversible with simple lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about reducing caffeine intake or getting off medications that may aggravate the condition, such as some high blood pressure drugs. Certain medical procedures may also help female urinary incontinence. Retropubic suspension uses surgical thread to support the bladder neck. The sling procedure is a natural or synthetic strap to support the urethra.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on February 21, 2013

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