I’m sure you’ve heard of the much feared and dreaded urinary incontinence (UI)– but even if you suffer from it, you might have been afraid to ask exactly what it’s all about.
Dr Ailsa Wilson Edwards, Urological Surgeon shares important information on urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is involuntary leakage of urine that you can’t control.
It might happen while exercising, coughing, laughing or sneezing or anything you enjoy, even during sex, or not being able to ‘hold it’ when you get the sudden urge to go.
You’d be surprised how common it is. Incontinence is considered a silent epidemic.
We all have friends, sisters or mothers who suffer from it, or be sufferers ourselves – but as no one seems to talk about it incontinence can be incredibly isolating.
Around four million Australians are affected by urinary incontinence*, which means one in five people. The largest group is women who have experienced childbirth or the menopause.
Having said that, incontinence also affects men and even about one in 8 young women under 30 who haven’t had children. Many sufferers have been told to ‘put up with it’ and remain silent for years. Although there’s no question it is common, it does not have to be accepted as a normal part of getting older or becoming a mum.
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One cause is weak pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis which, hold up your pelvic organs and hold in the urine, bowel motions and wind. They can be stretched or damaged, for example during pregnancy or delivery.
Other things that don’t help urinary incontinence include constipation, chronic coughing, being overweight, occupations involving repeated and heavy lifting, and nerve damage such as back injuries or from past surgery.
So, what can you do to improve your urinary incontinence?
Regular pelvic floor training is a clinically proven, non-surgical way of effectively treating urinary incontinence.
Maintaining a strong pelvic floor is also the key to prevention. It is very important for all of us to understand the importance of the pelvic floor muscles, and to get the most out of exercising them correctly.
My tips for correctly performing these exercises are:
- Ensure you have the correct and optimal pelvic floor exercise technique. Imagine you are squeezing and lifting the muscles around the vagina, like an elevator going up to the top floor. In between squeezes don’t forget to fully relax. Keep the muscles of your thighs and bottom and tummy relaxed. If you’re at all unsure and need some advice, you could see your GP, or check out the Continence Foundation of Australia website here where there are some great articles and brochures, or make an appointment with a continence and women’s health nurse or physiotherapist (look on the Australian Physiotherapy Association website here, choose ‘Find a Physio’ and then ‘Continence and Women’s Health’ in the ‘treatment’ menu) who can tailor a program to suit you.
- Do your exercises every day, and stay motivated. It can take weeks to start to see results, and it means setting aside some time each and every day to do the exercises. Make training a part of daily life. Those who persist are those who will succeed!
It’s also important to avoid constipation and/or straining with a bowel motion, avoid persistent heavy lifting and engage your pelvic floor when you do, see here for advice on fitness activities safe for your pelvic floor.
Also avoid irritating your bladder by cutting back tea, coffee and fizzy drinks, and maintain a healthy weight and general good health.
Approximately half of women in the community with urinary incontinence will be cured or see improvement with a regular, well-performed pelvic floor exercise program.
So commit to getting and maintaining a strong pelvic floor if you want to say goodbye to leakage.