If you pee (a little or a lot) when you sneeze or cough, odds are you also pee when you laugh, jump up and down. If that’s the case, you’re probably one of the 22% of women experiencing stress urinary incontinence (SUI).
Stress incontinence is the most common type, and women with SUI may experience urine leaks when they:
- Lift heavy objects
- Bend over
Most of the time, SUI results from weakened pelvic floor muscles. If incontinence progresses beyond the above bullet points, there is also a chance you have a condition called pelvic organ prolapse, creating excess pressure on the bladder. And there is plenty you can do to reduce or eliminate incontinence in most cases.
Always schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN or general practitioner when experiencing incontinence. Among other things, it puts you at higher risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs), and the sooner we find the cause, the sooner you’ll receive treatment.
There are several causes of SUI, and while it may be common in women who haven’t had adequate guidance around (or have neglected) exercises to maintain a healthy pelvic floor, incontinence is avoidable in most cases.
Pregnancy/birth. Women who’ve been pregnant or given birth are 8% more likely to develop stress incontinence (expected in the immediate weeks/months but should clear up after the first six months to a year if your body is healing well).
- Pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Pelvic organ prolapse occurs due to weakning/stretched connective tissue in the pelvic region. This causes pelvic organs to sag, straining the bladder and urethra.
- Age. All our muscles and connective tissues weaken with age, and the pelvic/bladder muscles are no exception. For example, around 13% of women between the ages of 19 and 44 experience SUI, but that number jumps to 22% by the time women reach 64 years old.
- Medication side effects. Diuretics and some other medications are known to increase a woman’s chances of incontinence.
- Smoking/drinking. Both smoking and drinking alcohol increase incontinence risk.
- History of pelvic surgery or trauma. If you’ve had pelvic surgery or experienced trauma to the pelvis, injured muscles and connective tissue may remain permanently weakened.
- Chronic constipation. Straining to have bowel movements also strains/weakens pelvic muscles/tissues. If constipation is an issue for you, speak to your doctor about diet and supplement changes to keep you more regular, relieving strain on the bladder, urethra, and other muscles.
Regardless of the cause, never assume you have to live with incontinence forever. As you can imagine, the sooner you address the issue, the better. For example, if you’re peeing when you cough or sneeze due to weak muscles, they’ll continue to weaken without intervention – so why wait?
As with any health condition, treatments depend on the cause. However, in most cases, your doctor will speak to you about things like:
Take a look at your diet and lifestyle, and make sure you’re eating for health. Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet, reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks for a bit, increasing fiber intake to minimize bowel movement strains, treating chronic coughs, etc.
A strong pelvic floor benefits every woman. While most people know about Kegels, there are many other exercises to strengthen pelvic and core muscles, which prevent or significantly minimize incontinence.
Also, there are plenty of great YouTube videos ranging from yoga to physical therapy that focus on pelvic floor exercises you can do at home, so do a search and try some out.
Muscle memory matters. Creating a schedule to empty the bladder regularly – every two to three hours – helps to keep it from getting too full or spasming. If you like to run, want to jump on the trampoline, etc., empty your bladder beforehand.
Our busy schedules can mean we “ignore” our body’s signals. How often have you been in the grocery store, busy at work, or waiting for a child at an extracurricular activity – (sub)consciously holding it until you “have time to go?” This is very bad for the bladder.
Holding urine back when you have the urge to pee elevates the risk for stress incontinence because it strains and weakens muscles in the bladder and urethra. Whenever you have the urge, excuse yourself from whatever you’re doing – honor your body – and go!
Some pelvic physical therapists specialize in treating incontinence. If you have more advanced SUI, visiting a pelvic physical therapist a better way to get personalized support and exercises. Most insurance providers pay for all or a portion of these sessions (which may only be once or twice, depending on your progress) with a physician’s referral.
There are incontinence medications, but those aren’t usually needed to treat stress urinary incontinence since it’s a mild form and is usually managed with the above tips and treatments.
Ready to stop peeing when you cough? Visit us here at Women’s Health Associates. We help women with stress incontinence every day. We’ll provide more information on easy pelvic floor exercises and other ways to treat bladder leaks before they progress.