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Understanding the types of urinary incontinence

Understanding the types of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is defined as the loss of bladder control. It is more common than you might think, with around 50% of women in midlife experiencing some form of associated symptoms.   The severity can range from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that's so sudden and strong you don't get to a toilet in time. We wrote this article to help you understand the different types of incontinence, so that if it’s something you are going through you can better understand it and that’s the first step to getting treatment. 

Why do urinary symptoms happen during menopause?

If you’ve read some of our other articles, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is related to the decline in oestrogen in a woman’s body after menopause. Oestrogen helps keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy, and when these organs have a lack of oestrogen, this can aggravate incontinence. Another thing that happens is that as you get older the muscles in your bladder and urethra can lose some of their strength, which is why pelvic floor exercises can help in many cases. 

Types of incontinence:
  1. Urge incontinence. This is when you have an intense urge to urinate all of a sudden and can be followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Urge incontinence also can cause the need to urinate often, including making you get up in the middle of the night. It’s worth investigating why you are having this type of incontinence, since it can be caused by different conditions, including infections, or more-severe conditions such as a neurological disorder or diabetes.
  2. Stress incontinence. This is when you pee a little when there is pressure in the bladder: usually by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy.
  3. Overflow incontinence. This is when you experience a frequent or constant dribbling of urine due to a bladder that doesn't empty completely.
  4. Functional incontinence. This can be a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from getting to the toilet in time. 
  5. Mixed incontinence. This is a term for when you experience more than one type of urinary incontinence - very common in the women we speak to.

We know it can be uncomfortable to talk about this, but now that you know how common it is, hopefully you won’t be embarrassed to talk to a healthcare provider, especially if you think this is affecting your quality of life. By talking to a healthcare professional about the symptoms you are experiencing you can learn about the best treatment options for you. Specialist GPs, Specialist Nurses and Women’s Health Physiotherapists are all healthcare professionals trained in assessing and treating these symptoms.


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