Female incontinence is the loss of bladder control, or the failure to hold your urine until you can get to a toilet.
Women of all ages can suffer from incontinence and tend to be more susceptible than men.
Incontinence affects women almost twice as much as men. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and the anatomy of a woman’s urinary tract are all factors that increase the likelihood of incontinence.
Women in their twilight years may experience incontinence more so than younger women. However, female incontinence is not unavoidable with old age. Incontinence is manageable and often treatable, no matter what age or physical condition you are in. In a study carried out by the Medical Journal of Australia it was found that almost 2 million Australian women over the age of 18 suffer from incontinence.
Did you know?
- Between the ages of 18 and 44, approximately 24% of women experience incontinence¹
- For women over age 60, approximately 23% deal with incontinence
- The problem is more common in women than men²
- Half of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence³
The severity of female incontinence can range between a slight leakage of urine when you laugh, cough or sneeze, to frequent loss of large amounts of urine. Some women think it’s a part of normal development and don’t view it as an actual medical condition, which it certainly is. This leads many female incontinence sufferers to ‘grin and bear’ the discomfort and frequent mad dashes to the bathroom rather than seek help or medical advice. This is a perception that needs to be changed.
To understand the problem of female incontinence you need to be as well informed as possible. To start off this education process, we will be delving into the three main types of female incontinence. The main causes of and treatment of female incontinence will be explored next. There are also detailed pages within the female incontinence section showing how the female urinary system works as well as why incontinence affects women more than men.
Types of female incontinence
There are three main types of female incontinence:
Stress Incontinence: Stress incontinence occurs when an external pressure or force like a sneeze, cough or laugh puts pressure on an already weakened bladder and surrounding muscles, forcing urine to leak out. Generally, this variety of female incontinence only results in small leakages, although, depending on your level of activity, these leaks may be more frequent. Stress incontinence is the most prevalent form of the incontinence affecting women.
Overflow incontinence: You may be suffering from overflow incontinence if you feel that you can never truly empty your bladder and have a constant dribbling or very small leakage of urine at regularly intervals.
Urge incontinence: This is when the urge to go to the toilet is so sudden and powerful that it often allows you very little time to get to the bathroom. As a result, urine leakage may occur. This kind of female incontinence is also known as an overactive bladder.
Your doctor may carry out a variety of tests to determine if you have incontinence, and if so, what variety of female incontinence you have. One of the things your doctor may ask you to do is keep a bladder diary that details how often you go to the toilet and how much urine you expel on each visit. Analysis of your urine may also be carried out to ascertain if you have any urinary tract infections.
Causes of female incontinence:
- Childbirth: Having a baby, especially if your labour is particularly long and protracted or your baby is fairly large, may lead to instances of incontinence, usually of the stress variety.
- Bladder Infections: Having a bladder infection can irritate your bladder to such an extent that incontinence can occur.
- Menopause: Menopause can cause your body to produce less oestrogen and this may lead to leakage of urine.
- Ageing: Growing older can cause the normally naturally elastic bladder to lose its inherent elasticity.
Treating female incontinence
After your doctor has diagnosed incontinence, the next step is outlining your treatment plan. The plan will be customised for your type and level of incontinence. For example, stress incontinence is usually treated differently to urge incontinence. What follows are the most popular and effective female incontinence treatments:
- Bladder training: By lengthening the time between trips to the bathroom, bladder training can help women with urge incontinence.
- Medications: There are some medications that have the ability to lessen the severity of incontinence. They are mainly used to treat urge incontinence.
- Avoid diuretics: Diuretics are a group of chemicals that stimulate the production of urine. Alcohol and caffeine are examples of diuretics. You should try to avoid these substances as they may irritate your bladder and cause it to fill to overcapacity.
- Surgery: Surgery has proved successful at limiting female incontinence. It is normally used to treat stress incontinence.
- Kegel exercises: These exercises can help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by contracting and relaxing them. Imagine that you’re trying to stop urinating. Those muscles are the pelvic floor. To exercise the pelvic floor muscles try squeezing and holding them tightly for 5 seconds, working up to 10 seconds per hold. Do these contractions 10 to 20 times, allowing a 10-second rest between each one.
- Products: Depend has a great range of female incontinence aids. These aids are designed to help you manage your incontinence no matter what your age, physical shape or the severity of the problem.
Some of the most popular Depend female incontinence aids are:
- Depend® Undergarments for women
- Depend® Underwear for Women
- Depend® Super Underwear for Women
- Depend® Fitted Briefs for Women
The hardest part for woman can be admitting a problem even exists and this can often mean being too embarrassed to seek help. Education combined with the appropriate treatment plan is key to the prevention and cure of incontinence. See your women’s health specialist to discuss and find a solution to your incontinence problem.
The Australian Government can help ease the financial difficulties incontinence sufferers may experience. The Continence Aids Payment Scheme (CAPS) provides payments to help consumers meet some of the costs of their continence products. For more information, please refer to our CAPS page.
1. Palmer MH, Fitzgerald S, Berry SJ, Hart. Urinary incontinence in working women: an exploratory study. Women Health. 1999 v. 29(3)p. 67-82.
2. Hampel C, Wienhold D, Benken N, Eggersmann C, Thuroff JW. Definition of overactive bladder and epidemiology of urinary incontinence. Urology 1997 v. 50 (suppl. 6A) p. 4-14.
3. Overview: Urinary Incontinence in Adults, Clinical Practice Guideline Update. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, Rockville, MD. March 1996. http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uiovervw.htm