What is incontinence?
Bladder problems are common. Many others have bladder problems, such as needing to go to the toilet more frequently and an urgency to go without leakage.
Incontinence is a term that describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence).
Incontinence is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from ‘just a small leak’ to complete loss of bladder or bowel control. Incontinence can be treated and managed. In many cases, it can also be cured.
Women leak small amounts of urine from time to time. Leakage of urine can occur with certain movements, or during pregnancy or times of stress. Some women find that they lose urine when they hear the sound of running water or when they have their hands in water. Others find that, at times, they feel the urge to urinate and are unable to control it. When leakage of urine becomes frequent or severe enough to become a social or hygienic problem, it is called urinary incontinence.
Often women are reluctant to tell their doctor about the symptoms of urinary incontinence. They may feel embarrassed, and may even withdraw from certain social or work situations. Other women have the false belief that urinary incontinence is a normal part of aging and that nothing can be done to correct it. But often urinary incontinence can be treated with success.
Any leakage of urine that you cannot control should prompt you to see your doctor. Proper diagnosis and treatment may correct these problems and ease the symptoms of urinary incontinence.
The urinary tract is made up of kidneys, which produce urine; tubes called ureters that carry urine to the bladder, a sac-like, muscular organ, where it is stored; and the urethra, a small, muscular tube about 2 inches long that channels urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
Normal urination, or voiding, occurs when a woman is able to empty her bladder whenever she has a natural desire to do so. In normal voiding, the muscles around the urethra relax, the bladder contracts, and urine flows from the bladder to the urethra and out of the body. When the bladder is almost empty, the muscles around the urethra contract, the bladder relaxes, and the stream of urine stops flowing.
Think you might have a problem?
If you experience bladder problems but are not sure if you should seek help, try the questionnaire below.
Bladder and bowel questionnaire
Do you sometimes feel you have not completely emptied your bladder?
Do you have to rush to use the toilet?
Are you frequently nervous because you think you might lose control of your bladder?
Do you wake up twice or more during the night to go to the toilet?
Do you sometimes leak before you get to the toilet?
Do you sometimes leak when you lift something heavy, sneeze, cough or laugh?
Do you sometimes leak when you exercise or play sport?
Do you sometimes leak when you change from a seated or lying position to a standing position?
Do you plan your daily routine around where the nearest toilet is?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions you may have a bladder control problem.
Women who have urinary incontinence leak urine often. They may have to wear a pad to keep from wetting their clothes.
A woman with urinary incontinence may also have other symptoms:
■ Frequency: Urinating more than every 2 hours or more than 7 times a day
■ Nocturia: The need to urinate often during hours of sleep
■ Dysuria: Painful urination
■ Enuresis: Bed-wetting