A Guide to Urinary Incontinence

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Urinary incontinence (UI) or loss of bladder control is a medical issue that affects many people. It’s characterised by a sudden, strong urge to urinate, bladder leakage, or frequent urination. The symptoms typically depend on the type of urinary incontinence. For some, UI is temporary, but for others, it’s chronic, persistent, and frustrating. 

The causes of the condition vary significantly. Urinary incontinence is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a disease itself. Thus, it can often be resolved with treatment. So, while it may be uncomfortable to discuss, there’s no need to feel embarrassed by this issue, and help and support are available for those in need. 

In some cases, help may come in the form of physical therapy/physiotherapy. Here’s more about urinary incontinence and how physiotherapy can help.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

There are five major types of UI: urge, stress, functional, overflow, and mixed. Urge, stress, and mixed are the most common types of urinary incontinence. Each type has its own unique set of symptoms that vary in severity.

Urge – Urge incontinence causes an intense urge to urinate followed by a sudden bladder release. It can also cause frequent urination.

Stress – Stress incontinence causes leakage during activities such as coughing, sneezing, heavy lifting, exercising, or laughing.

Functional – Functional incontinence only occurs in those with a mental or physical disability that prevents them from reaching the toilet to relieve themselves in time.

Overflow – Overflow incontinence is characterised by frequent urine leakage or ‘overflow’ caused by a bladder that doesn’t empty fully.

Mixed – Mixed incontinence is simply a combination of incontinence types, which causes several sets of symptoms.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

While the causes of UI vary, it can be temporary or persistent. Temporary incontinence occurs when certain medications, drinks, or foods act as diuretics and stimulate the bladder and/or increase urine volume. This temporary condition can be caused by consuming excessive amounts of foods, drinks, and supplements or medications, such as:

  • Alcohol (which causes intoxication)
  • Vitamin C
  • Caffeine
  • Sparkling water
  • Spicy, sugary, or acidic foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Chilis
  • Chocolate
  • High doses of muscle relaxants, heart and blood pressure pills, and sedatives

Temporary incontinence can also be caused by infections, such as a urinary tract infection and vaginitis. 

On the other hand, persistent urinary incontinence is caused by chronic health conditions or changes due to aging, pregnancy, or childbirth. Some of the chronic conditions that can cause UI include:

  • Neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s Disease, spinal injury, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a brain tumor, or a stroke
  • Prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate
  • Urinary stones or other obstructions along the urinary tract
  • Hysterectomy surgery
  • Menopause

Other factors or conditions, like age, weight, gender (stress incontinence is more common in women), diabetes, and smoking may increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence.

Physiotherapy for Urinary Incontinence

Physiotherapy is perhaps the most common urinary incontinence treatment. It educates and treats patients and is designed to guide you towards a healthy recovery. Therapy programs often include physical and mental exercises, as well as education. During a program, you’ll likely:

  • Keep a diary to help you form good bladder habits
  • Learn about foods, drinks, and other consumables that contribute to leakage
  • Perform strengthening exercises for the pelvic floor muscles (Kegels) and areas surrounding the pelvic floor (back, thighs, and core)
  • Learn about pelvic floor anatomy and function
  • Form healthy bladder habits through mental exercises