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Why Your Doctor Should Know

If incontinence affects your lifestyle or mood, it's time to talk to your doctor. Many women don't consider this an option, or they're nervous about treatment. One study found that less than half of women with the condition sought treatment.

But there are good reasons to bring it up: About 80% of the women in the study who did get treatment reported an improvement. And actually, Noblett says, many solutions don't involve surgery.

Your doctor may suggest you keep a record of your diet, behaviors, and bathroom activities, called a voiding diary. "We'll look at how many times you urinate or leak throughout the day and under what circumstances, and from there we can usually advise women to change certain habits," Mamik says. 

Other treatments include medications, behavioral therapy, biofeedback (learning to control your bodily functions), and several types of implants and shots. In 2013, for example, Botox (injected into the bladder muscles) was approved to treat overactive bladder.

Surgery Can Provide Relief

If you have urge incontinence, your doctor may suggest a procedure to control the nerves that work your bladder. He’ll implant a small device into your lower back that uses a mild electrical pulse to help your brain and nerves talk to each other better.

Stress incontinence can be treated with "sling" surgery, in which material is inserted to support the urethra. Most of these have a success rate of 85% to 90% and usually don't require a hospital stay or long recovery period. "A lot of younger women prefer surgery because they want to feel normal again," Mamik says. "They can go back to being active and enjoying life."

Noblett, who regularly performs sling surgeries, agrees that surgery can be life-changing. "Many women don't know it's an option, or they're too scared to try. One patient came to me afterward and said, 'I've been leaking for 30 years; I can't believe I didn't do this sooner.'"

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