Stress Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Peeing yourself a little is a common experience, especially if you’ve been holding it in for too long. You may have peed yourself a little from laughing too hard, sneezing, or putting too much strain on your bladder. However, if this is a common occurrence, it might be a sign of an underlying health issue.
Whether chronic or temporary, urinary incontinence affects over 25 million adult Americans. There are two main types: urge incontinence and stress incontinence. Fortunately, this condition is treatable with both surgical and non-surgical options.
In this article, we discuss common stress incontinence causes, symptoms, and treatments. Read on to find out more.
What Is Stress Incontinence?
Stress incontinence refers to the involuntary passing of urine due to bladder pressure. When there’s sudden pressure on your bladder or urethra, your sphincter muscles open, causing urine to leak out. This can happen when you laugh, sneeze, cough, lift, strain, or perform rigorous exercise.
In more severe cases, SUI can occur with even the most simple activities. You may experience a leak when walking, bending forward, or standing up.
Keep in mind that SUI is not the same as overactive bladder (OAB) or urge incontinence. The difference between stress incontinence and urge incontinence lies in the anatomy. With SUI, the urethra is unable to stop the increase of pressure on your bladder.
With OAB or urge incontinence, the bladder spasms uncontrollably. However, some people can have both types of incontinence, referred to as mixed incontinence.
Stress Incontinence Causes and Risk Factors
Stress incontinence can happen to anyone, but it affects more women than men. 80% of reported cases affect women, and half of these cases are from older women. Now, this doesn’t mean that urinary incontinence comes with age.
Despite what the name implies, SUI is not a result of mental or emotional stress.
Stress incontinence can signify a weakened pelvic floor. It could also result from a damaged or weakened sphincter, which is the muscle that keeps your urethra closed.
Because of that, any activity that squeezes the bladder will cause urine to leak out. Here are some common risk factors associated with stress incontinence:
- – Damage during childbirth, often from a natural birthing
- – Obesity
- – Increased pressure on your stomach due to pregnancy
- – Damage to the bladder or surrounding area
- – Surgery around the surrounding area
- – Some medications
Some neurological conditions may also cause stress incontinence. Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease may sometimes cause SUI as they affect the brain and spinal cord. You may also suffer from SUI if you have connective tissue disorders.
Stress Incontinence Symptoms
The best way to tell if you have stress incontinence is when you pass urine while performing physical activity. A leakage can be a full stream, a small squirt, or even as little as a single drop. Keep track of when you pass urine involuntarily.
In mild cases, SUI will cause you to pass urine when sneezing, laughing, or lifting something heavy. In more severe cases, you may leak urine while having sex or bending over. Urine leakage doesn’t have to happen every time you perform these activities.
Are these symptoms affecting your daily routine or quality of life? Don’t hesitate to talk to a medical professional about your urinary health.
How Is Stress Incontinence Diagnosed?
A stress incontinence diagnosis starts with a physical exam. For people assigned female at birth, your doctor may perform a pelvic exam. They’ll ask you to share your symptoms and how they have affected you in daily life.
Depending on the severity of your case, your doctor may ask you to start a bladder diary. A bladder diary details your fluid intake, frequency of going to the bathroom, and instances of urine leakage.
Your healthcare provider may also ask you to undergo one or more of the following tests:
- – Urinalysis
- – Ultrasound
- – Bladder scan
- – Urodynamic testing
- – Cystoscopy, or
- – Urinary pad test
An ultrasound allows your provider to assess your bladder and surrounding organs. If your doctor suspects an infection, a urinalysis will help them confirm it.
Stress Incontinence Treatment Options
There are both non-surgical and surgical options available that can help you manage symptoms of urinary incontinence.
Constipation can potentially worsen symptoms of urinary incontinence. Combat this by drinking the recommended amount of water, eating high-fiber foods, taking medications to treat constipation, or adding magnesium supplements. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, talk with your provider to learn how to manage it.
Some doctors may recommend vaginal estrogen, patches, creams, or gels. For women in menopause, this can help strengthen the vaginal muscles and tissues, and potentially prevent leakage.
A pessary can help to manage stress incontinence. Click here to learn more about pessaries.
Pelvic floor exercises, or Kegel exercises, with a pelvic floor physical therapist or a medical device ordered by a doctor can also help. When these exercises are self-taught (e.g., via Youtube videos), the success rates are much lower than if they are taught by a physical therapist or medical device.
Your doctor may suggest surgery depending on the type of incontinence you have. This may include a sling procedure, which adds resistance to the urethra to prevent you from leaking urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, lift, or strain. Another option could be urethral injections which bulk up the muscle to help prevent leakage. It may take a few injections to get your symptoms under control but this is a minimally invasive option.
How To Prevent Stress Incontinence
There is no secret to preventing urinary incontinence. However, there are some things you can do to lower your risk of developing SUI.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Packing in excess weight can put too much pressure on your bladder and put you at risk for urinary incontinence. You can prevent this by working on maintaining a healthy weight. Use this opportunity to get on a healthier diet and start exercising.
Control Your Drinking Habits
If you like to over-indulge, try limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. It also helps to cut down on caffeinated beverages, like coffee, tea, and soda.
Try Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pregnancy and giving birth can damage and weaken your pelvic floor. Pelvic floor exercises, like Kegels, can help strengthen those muscles and prevent SUI. The key for Kegels to work is to learn them from a trained pelvic floor physical therapist, or by using a medical device that can be ordered by your doctor.
Seek A Urogynecologist Today
Stress urinary incontinence can occur if you have a weakened pelvic floor or damaged sphincter. Stress incontinence causes not only physical discomfort but can also damage your mental health and self-esteem.
Dr. Peter Lotze and the Lotze team specialize in female pelvic health. Contact us today for a virtual consultation or visit us at any of our locations at the Texas Medical Center in Houston or The Woodlands.
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