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3 Common Conditions Women Don't Talk About: Incontinence, Lack of Desire and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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WebMD Feature

Even the most blunt, out-spoken women tend to clam up if they have one of these three potentially embarrassing medical problems: incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and diminished female sexual libido.

If you're like many other women, you'd rather live with the sometimes distressing symptoms of these conditions than broach the subject at your next doctor's office visit.

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You're likely to be embarrassed, believe few others have the problem, just wish it would go away -- or all of the above.

But all of these conditions can affect your relationships and your sense of wellbeing. And treatment can provide relief of the symptoms, and in some cases, eliminate the condition altogether.

Here’s what you need to know about each of these conditions so you can get help, and start enjoying life again.

Overcoming Incontinence Symptoms

In recent years, incontinence has come out of the closet, thanks to U.S. Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who both have publicly acknowledged their problems with incontinence, and raised public awareness.

Incontinence can affect women of all ages, but is more common as women get older. Incontinence is not, however, an inevitable part of aging.

Urinary incontinence affects an estimated 12 million U.S. adults.

Symptoms depend on the type of urinary incontinence you have, according to Halina Zyczynski, MD, director of the division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, Penn. The two most common types are stress and urge incontinence.

In stress incontinence, you often leak urine when you push or pull objects, cough, sneeze, laugh, or exercise. Your pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, are weakened -- often due to childbirth -- and that weakness causes leakage.

In urge incontinence, as the name implies, you have a sudden need to urinate and may not be able to get to the bathroom soon enough to avoid leaking urine. While it is not completely understood, experts think the bladder muscle may give the wrong message to the brain, because the bladder feels more full than it really is. You may feel the urge to void even if you have just done so.

One treatment option for incontinence symptoms is to wear panty liners or protective garments if the urine leakage is small. You can also start performing Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Biofeedback training is sometimes given in combination with pelvic floor training.

Injection of a bulking agent around the bladder neck and the urethra (urine-carrying tube) can help reduce stress incontinence, Zyczynski says. Another option is a surgical procedure in which a strap of natural tissue or other materials helps support the urethra.

Overcoming Irritable Bowel Syndrome

One in five adult Americans is affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), according to the Digestive Disease Clearinghouse of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The problem is more likely to strike women than men. Half of those who suffer are affected before age 35.

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