Women, Say Sayonara to Urinary Incontinence

Nothing takes the fun out of laughing quite like urinary incontinence. It is a cruel twist, really, that women who once patiently coached their kiddos through potty training now find themselves contemplating whether they can get by with a maxi pad or if they need an adult diaper to guard against unwanted trickles triggered by a spontaneous laugh or sudden cough or sneeze. If you are one of them, you are not alone. The sisterhood is large. Nearly one in three adult women suffers from female incontinence. It’s more common than diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Yet, less than 50 percent of women affected actually talk to their doctors about it.

“Many women feel embarrassed or ashamed,” says Tracy Cannon-Smith, M.D., a board-certified urologist who specializes in urinary incontinence in women at Urology Associates of North Texas. “A lot of them think it’s just part of aging. They don’t realize that it is a medical condition that can be effectively treated.” 

The most common type of female incontinence, known as stress urinary incontinence (SUI), occurs when body movements like jogging, coughing, sneezing or laughing put pressure on the bladder. While SUI is most prevalent in women 40 and older, risk factors—pregnancy, vaginal delivery, obesity, hysterectomy, smoking, family history, diet and other medical conditions—mean younger women are affected by female incontinence, too.     

While there aren’t any medications to treat stress urinary incontinence, there are things you can do to help stay dry. “Regular voiding helps keep the bladder empty so there is less chance of leakage when you exercise, cough or sneeze,” says Dr. Cannon-Smith. “And there are certain foods and drinks you should avoid because they irritate the bladder. Orange juice and citric juices are very acidic. Caffeine in coffee, carbonated sodas and chocolate not only stimulates the bladder, it’s a diuretic which makes you need to go more.”  

In addition to dietary changes, Dr. Cannon-Smith also recommends pelvic floor rehab. “Urinary incontinence in women happens when the urethra, the tube that passes urine from the bladder and out of the body, is no longer supported properly,” she says. “Women often try Kegel exercises on their own, but they may not be accessing the right muscles. That’s why I send women to a specially trained physical therapist who works one-on-one with them to teach them how to exercise the right muscles so the urethra is better supported. When the urethra is properly supported, leakage stops.” 

If diet and exercise don’t put an end to urinary incontinence, the minimally invasive “sling procedure” is an option. During the outpatient procedure, small incisions are made in the vagina, the abdomen or where the top of the thigh meets the pelvic area. The sling is inserted through the incision and placed under the urethra to form a cradle of support. The sling anchors itself to tissue and muscle in the space surrounding the urethra. “The sling functions like a hammock to support the urethra and prevent accidental leakage,” Dr. Cannon-Smith explains.

More than one million women have had the sling procedure to successfully combat female incontinence. Studies show that 85 to 94 percent of them no longer struggle with urinary incontinence following the sling procedure, and were able to resume normal, non-strenuous activities—including returning to work—within a few days.

“There’s no reason for women to suffer silently with stress urinary incontinence,” says Dr. Cannon-Smith. “Talk to your doctor. See a physician who specializes in the treatment of SUI. Female incontinence can be effectively treated."

If you’d like to know more about stress urinary incontinence or be connected with a board-certified urologist who specializes in SUI, call 888.444.USMD for a FREE physician referral.  

 

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