Urinary incontinence is a medical condition that causes much discomfort among people, not only causing them to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed but also potentially putting them at risk of suffering other health issues related to the urinary tract or near organs. Check out this article to find out exactly what are urinary leaks, what might be causing them and some potential treatments to correct this situation.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
A urinary incontinence -also known as urinary leak- is the loss of control in the bladder that results in urine leaking from it in spite of the person’s efforts to prevent it. When urine is created in the kidneys it is later sent to the bladder to be stored for a while. A bladder is made up of muscles that, when the person wants to pee, tighten to let the urine pass through the urethra. The urethra also has muscles -called the sphincter muscles- which need to relax in order to let the urine be expelled from the body. A urinary leak can happen when the muscles of either the urethra or the bladder are not strong enough to willingly shut, close and control the exit of urine at will.
The Main Causes
Generally speaking, urinary leaks can be caused by something that relates to the nerves or the muscles around or inside the bladder and the urinary tract. It is not a secret that women suffer from urinary leaks nearly twice as much as men do. This is because women experience a series of body changes unique to their gender and they’re closely related to muscle and nerve functions.
During pregnancy, a woman’s internal organs move around to make room for the baby, causing certain pressure to the bladder. But after childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles are left weak due to the effort of labor, resulting in uterine prolapse and leaving women with an overactive bladder. Other situations related to childbirth that could cause urinary leaks are some nerve damages to the bladder during labor, the bladder staying in the wrong position after pregnancy, and an episiotomy that cuts through the pelvic floor muscles.
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Even though this is a much-discussed topic, ageing is in fact one of the main factors that could cause urinary leaks. In the case of women this could be aggravated by childbirth or c-sections and in the case of men it could be related to prostatic enlargement that typically comes with age. But probably the most accepted theory regarding ageing and urinary leaks is that the urologic system simply suffers from the natural ageing process and deterioration.
As we mentioned, there are some surgeries that can put the bladder’s nerves and muscles in danger. In the case of women, any surgery that involves her reproductive system can cause further urinary leaks -such as c-sections or hysterectomies-. In the case of men, surgeries practiced around the bladder, or prostate, could potentially harm the muscles of the urethra and bladder.
An overweight person not only puts at risk their bones, muscles and heart. When someone reaches a dangerous weight, there is more pressure on the bladder since fat and other organs are pressing heavily down on it. With time, the bladder eventually ends up giving in to this weight and the muscles start weakening to the point where they can no longer hold in the bladder as effectively as they could before.
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Hormonal changes are a big reason why women start to lose bladder control. It’s important to know that hormones causing urinary leaks can only be traced back to women, since they’re the ones who experience hormonal changes all throughout their lives reaching a peak when they go through menopause. Menopause causes estrogen levels to drop significantly, which can weaken the urethra and pelvic floor muscles.
Treatment for Urinary Incontinence
In spite of what some people might think, urinary leaks can actually be treated in one of many ways, and they can even be prevented if you make sure to take the necessary steps at the right time. Here are some of the most popular treatments for urinary leaks:
Probably the best-known way to prevent or treat urinary leaks is doing Kegel exercises. These exercises consist of some pelvic floor training to strengthen the muscles in the bladder. To do them correctly, lay down and tighten your genitals as if trying to contain urine or gas, but make sure not to squeeze the abdominals or legs. After a while, you’ll be able to do Kegel’s anywhere and in any position.
Bladder training is a very effective way to make sure you go to the bathroom when you really need to, and slowly teach your bladder to hold in more urine. Start by tracking down how many times you go to the bathroom each day. Then set a schedule to fit those times evenly separated throughout the day. After a few days, start adding 15 minutes between each bathroom visit until you go only about 5 times a day, and your bladder will get accustomed to hold in more urine between each visit to the bathroom.
For people who are overweight, there’s no better way to get rid of urinary leaks than by losing weight. Among its many benefits, weight loss will effectively remove the pressure that the fat is placing over your bladder, and when combined with Kegel exercises, it can bring back your bladder muscles to normal.
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Surgery is the most effective solution for urinary leaks, although it is not recommended for women who still want to get pregnant since this condition will make it appear again. Surgery can be done by sling procedure, which means placing a type of hammock under the bladder to hold it up and help reduce pressure; or it can be a Colposuspension, which means two stitches are done on the sides of the bladder to hold it in place.
Non-surgical medical procedures
Since surgery is a last resort, there are many non-surgical treatments that can be done on people with urinary leaks. For example, a vaginal pessary is a sort of plastic donut that is inserted through the vagina to support the bladder and pelvic floor. Some doctors recommend injection of bulking agents such as collagen around the urethra to help thicken it and prevent leakages. Another option for women undergoing menopause are estrogen medications to improve the elasticity and strength of the pelvic floor.
Urinary incontinence in men can also happen, since it not only affects their health but also their personal and social life. Luckily nowadays there are many ways, like weight loss, to identify this issue and treat it before it becomes a major health problem.