Urinary incontinence (UI) — UI is the involuntary loss of urine, whether a tiny amount or a large amount. In other words, it is the loss of urine or the lack of control over holding urine. It is a common problem that can be embarrassing to those experiencing it. It is much more common in women than in men and is among the most frequent post-partum complaints.
If you’ve experienced UI, know that you are not alone! UI affects more than 200 million people worldwide and only 1 in 8 Americans who experience symptoms of UI are diagnosed. The average woman waits over 6.5 years, enduring symptoms, to seek diagnosis with UI. Don’t wait. Learn more and do something now. (link to program)
If you have UI symptoms that are significant enough to affect your day-to-day activities, you should seek advice from your primary care doctor who may point you to the right specialist (a urologist or urogynecologist or perhaps a pelvic floor physical therapist). If, however, you experience some occasional leaking of urine that doesn’t significantly affect your quality of life, you may find that your symptoms are improved or resolved with basic information and participation in a program of exercises like ours. Do the program! (link)
First, what is it? Urinary Incontinence (UI) is the accidental loss of urine, regardless of how much. Though it is a very common post-partum complaint, it should not be viewed as a normal result of having a baby. Urinary control requires very fine coordination among the muscles of the pelvic floor, the hammock of muscles that support the urethra and bladder. Pregnant women often experience incontinence due to hormonal changes or the pressure of the growing baby on the bladder. Post-partum women may experience UI due to the stress of a vaginal delivery and as a result of some of the changes that occur during pregnancy. During pregnancy and childbirth, the muscles that support the bladder can become weakened. Nerves that provide bladder control can also be damaged, causing post-partum UI.
There are 2 types of UI: Stress Incontinence and Urge Incontinence. Stress incontinence is losing bladder control during exercise or movement, when coughing or sneezing, lifting your baby, etc. Urge incontinence is the loss of bladder control due to a sudden, urgent need to urinate. Some people experience one form while others experience a combination of both types of UI. Incontinence can also affect bowels. Losing stool, a condition called fecal incontinence, should be treated immediately with the care of your physician.
UI Treatment: The good news is that most UI cases can be controlled or eliminated all together. The earlier treatment starts, the better the outcome. Treatment options range from changes in habit to seeking physical therapy to drug treatment and even surgery to correct problems. UI problems will not simply go away. They will, in most cases, worsen over time.
The Basics: UI risk and symptoms can be decreased with the following:
- Exercise, Maintain a Healthy Weight, Don’t Smoke – all 3 reduce your risk of developing UI symptoms.
- Practice Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises (link here!).
- Avoid Bladder Irritants – caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, spicy or acidic foods, cigarettes, artificial sweeteners.
Potty Talk: It’s important to know the basics of good bladder and bowel habits. We can, in fact, be doing things in our everyday lives that contribute to UI symptoms or increase risk for developing UI. Use the following points as guidelines as you consider your own habits:
- It’s normal to go to the bathroom 4-8 times per day and no more than 1-2 times at night
- Don’t go “just in case” – this can contribute to symptoms – go only when your bladder feels full.
- Take your time and let your bladder empty completely – don’t rush!
- Don’t strain during a bowel movement.
- Have good form – sit back on the toilet, not on the edge, so that your bottom is supported and you can relax.
- Take deep breaths and try to “let go” of any tension in your pelvic floor muscles.
- Don’t hover – you may think you’re avoiding a dirty seat but you’re putting your bladder and bowel health at risk.
- Drink 6-8 cups of water per day and eat a colorful diet of fruits and vegetables.
- Keep your pelvic floor muscles strong – do the WAI program! (link here!).
Setbacks: We all have small day-to-day variations in our bladder habits and that’s totally normal. However, if you’re working to improve bladder or bowel health, you may feel discouraged if symptoms seem to get worse. Know that this will likely be a temporary set-back and it may occur when:
- you’re tired or run down
- you have a urinary tract (bladder) infection
- you feel particularly stressed or anxious
- you have another illness like a cold or the flu