If you leak a few drops of pee when you laugh or cough, you may be suffering from a common condition known as stress incontinence.
Frequent bouts of urine leakage can be embarrassing but is manageable with stress incontinence treatment. We will look at stress incontinence causes and how a few lifestyle changes and stress incontinence exercises can help reduce episodes of leakage.
If you have stress incontinence, you may feel embarrassed, isolate yourself, or limit your work and social life, especially exercise and leisure activities. Whether it is a result of weak muscles, an existing health condition, or even as a side effect from a medication, it does not have to keep you from enjoying your daily activities. With treatment, you’ll likely be able to manage stress incontinence and improve your overall well-being.
What Is Stress Incontinence?
Stress incontinence is the physical failure to control the urge to urinate when there is pressure on your bladder or abdomen. Stress incontinence refers to the bladder’s reaction to physical stress. This stress or pressure occurs with physical activity, such as jumping, running, laughing, sneezing, coughing, or even by standing from a sitting position.
Any increased pressure on the bladder forces the urethra to open. The urethra tube contains urine as it travels through the body. Urine leaks when there is excessive pressure on the bladder.
In addition to the damaging physical aspects of stress incontinence, the condition and results usually lead to emotional distress. Often, sufferers of this condition feel embarrassed, ashamed, and may eventually isolate themselves from social activities. So, while stress incontinence refers to the physical stress on the body, it can indirectly result in psychological stress, just not as a cause.
Stress Incontinence Causes and Symptoms
Stress incontinence is a result of internal and external factors affecting the functioning of our bladder, specifically the urethra tube. These factors can stimulate the urethra to open and allow urine leakage. It can happen with weak pelvic floor muscles or a damaged urethral sphincter, which is a round muscle that forces the urethra to remain closed.
Some of the issues leading to stress incontinence may include:
- Bladder damage from a hysterectomy or prostate surgery
- Excessive abdominal pressure from obesity or pregnancy
- Nerve and tissue damage as a result of childbirth
- Brain and spinal cord functioning issues, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Connective tissue disorders
- Medication side effects
- Coughing and sneezing due to smoking
- Years of high impact physical activities
How you experience stress incontinence is just as individualized as when you experience it. Every time you laugh, sneeze, cough, or jump, you may or may not have an issue. You can experience a heavy flow of urine or a slight leakage of a few drops. Some people with stress incontinence may also have urine leakage during sexual intercourse.
Stress vs. Urge Incontinence
Having urinary incontinence is a harsh reality for many people. This condition has different categories, with the most common ones being stress incontinence and urge incontinence.
1. Stress Incontinence
This condition happens when a force of pressure causes the bladder muscles to contract, resulting in a sudden urine leakage. This type of incontinence is stimulated by certain physical activities like laughing, sneezing, coughing, lifting, or exercise.
Bladder control problems tend to affect young to middle-aged females in response to their body’s unique issues. Young women often experience it after childbirth or from having weak pelvic floor muscles, mostly as a result of heredity. For those women in their 40s and 50s, stress incontinence may be present with the onset of menopause.
2. Urge Incontinence
This form of urinary incontinence occurs with an incapability to avoid urinating when the urge arises, and it is also known as overactive bladder condition. It may be the result of damage to the nerves and muscles in the bladder, trauma to connecting parts of the nervous system, infections, or medications.
Being unable to hold it long enough to reach a bathroom is often a result of various health conditions. These may include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or a stroke. Urge incontinence can also indicate bladder cancer.
Stress Incontinence Risk Factors and Complications
The factors causing stress incontinence have a direct and indirect link to the risk factors of the condition.
The aging process itself is not considered a direct cause, but as our body changes over time, the results play a part in whether we experience stress incontinence. It can also include weakening of the bladder muscles.
During a vaginal childbirth, delivery may cause trauma or damage that leads to stress incontinence. In some cases, damage can result during the surgical caesarean section procedure.
3. Body Weight
Since physical pressure causes stress incontinence, those with extra pounds are at a higher risk for this condition, including people who are overweight and obese.
4. Pelvic Surgery
Prostate surgery or a hysterectomy increases your risk for stress incontinence. These procedures can change the functioning of the bladder. The complications of stress incontinence can be the result of physical and emotional consequences.
5. Urinary Incontinence
By experiencing stress incontinence, it can also lead to another form of urinary incontinence known as urge incontinence. While these conditions differ, one can lead to the other.
6. Psychological Distress
Having stress incontinence can cause emotional stress as you are conscious about avoiding behavior that stimulates the urine leakage such as laughing or coughing. A person may withdraw from family, friends, and relationships.
7. Skin Irritation
The regions of the skin that come in contact with any urine can become raw and infected by skin rashes.
Stress Incontinence Exercises
If you have stress incontinence, you can strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles with targeted exercises known as Kegel exercises. These exercises are one of the best ways to tone and tighten these muscles without any surgical or chemical rehabilitation. The goal is to prevent urine leakage by improving the capability of the sphincter muscle.
Before you begin, it is important to know which muscles to focus on. These are the muscles you use to stop urinating midstream. During these exercises, avoid tightening the abdomen, buttock, or thigh muscles.
You can do this exercise anywhere at any time, and no one will know you are doing it. However, we recommend laying on a bed or the floor for the first few times.
Squeeze the pelvic floor muscles and hold for five seconds. Release and relax for five seconds and repeat. Continue to perform this exercise five times before increasing the holding period to 10 seconds. Do this three times daily.
You may want to seek medical advice if your stress incontinence does not improve within six months.
Managing Stress Incontinence: Lifestyle Tips
We have compiled a list of tips and lifestyle changes to help you live with the condition known as stress incontinence.
1. Limit Fluid Intake
Limit your intake of fluids to avoid stimulating leakage due to a full bladder. You may also want to time your intake of fluids to avoid unnecessary incidents. However, make sure you maintain sufficient hydration for proper functioning.
2. Avoid Stimulants
Certain foods and beverages, such as alcohol and caffeine, can stimulate increased bladder function.
3. Kegel Exercises
Perform these strengthening exercises to improve bladder function and prevent frequent urinary leakages. For best results, repeat three times daily.
You may also want to undertake a procedure called biofeedback. This technique uses electrical stimulation on the pelvic floor muscles.
4. Train the Bladder
By having a bathroom schedule, you may be able to reduce the frequency of leakages. Adhering to a schedule trains your bladder to drain several times throughout the day.
5. Healthy Lifestyle
Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You should try to quit smoking if you are a smoker or shed excess weight if you are obese or overweight.
When faced with stress incontinence, you may feel alone in your condition. However, there are support groups to help you cope with the condition and share your experiences, without the shame and stigma society has regarding incontinence. Many people with this and other similar conditions, always have a few tricks to deal with it, such as keeping extra protective pads and spare clothing on hand.
Stress incontinence is a serious condition caused by physical attributes resulting in both physical and emotional outcomes. By having damaged or weak pelvic floor muscles, you may experience frequent urine leakages when there is pressure in this area. It can occur from laughing, coughing, or any high-impact movement.
Knowing the risk factors and managing your condition with lifestyle changes can help you enjoy life’s joys, without the concern and mental stress of this condition.
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