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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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Women, Sports, and Stress Incontinence

Study: Urinary Stress Incontinence Often Strikes Women During Sports, Exercise
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 25, 2008 -- It's a delicate subject, but one that many women experience.

Urinary incontinence, or leaking urine, is a common, embarrassing female problem that keeps women from working out or playing sports.

Researchers wanted to take a look at stress urinary incontinence in the general population of women who play sports for recreation to see if they could find out who is more at risk and what can be done about it. Stress urinary incontinence is characterized by involuntary leakage of urine related to activity, such as coughing, sneezing, or lifting.

The study was led by Stefano Salvatore, MD, from the University of Insubria in Varese, Italy. The researchers gathered information from 679 women whose average age was 36. The participants were not professional athletes and were still having regular periods.

The women played basketball (17%), tennis and squash (11%), skied and windsurfed (7%), were cyclers and volleyball players (6%), and swimmers (4%).

Stress Urinary Incontinence and Sports

Among the women surveyed:

  • 15% (101) reported symptoms of stress urinary incontinence.
  • On average, women with leaking urine had the condition for up to six years.
  • Women with a higher body mass index (BMI) were more likely to report urinary stress incontinence than those of normal weight.
  • Women who had given birth were more likely to say they experienced stress urinary incontinence than did women who had never given birth.

Of the 101 women who experienced stress urinary incontinence:

  • 32 had symptoms only when playing sports.
  • 48 had symptoms when going about their daily life.
  • 21 had symptoms both when playing sports and in daily life situations.
  • Jumping was linked to urinary incontinence in nearly 25% of the 101 women, abdominal exercises in 15%, and jogging in 8%.
  • 10% of the 101 women changed their sports because the leakage was "so severe."
  • 20% changed the way they played their sport to limit leakage.
  • Ten of the 101 women tried different tactics to limit the problem:
    • Three cut back on fluids.
    • Seven went for medical help, and five of them were given pelvic floor strengthening exercises to do. One was told to lose weight, and one was referred to a specialist.

The authors write that women who deal with stress urinary incontinence "should be given information and offered diagnostic and conservative therapeutic options."

The authors point out that pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles around the bladder "can be very helpful."

The results are published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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