Urinary incontinence is the involuntary or accidental leakage of urine. It affects 30 to 50 per cent of women. Although the rates increase with age, incontinence among young women is also quite common. Pregnancy, childbirth and ageing are considered to be among the most common causes of urinary incontinence; however, many other factors can cause urinary incontinence, such as some types of medication or a chronic cough.
Many women with bladder problems are reluctant to discuss it and may be too embarrassed to acknowledge that they have a problem. Sometimes women are made to feel that these conditions are ‘normal’, especially as they get older, and that, since bladder problems like this are rarely life-threatening, they are not really a problem, but the truth is that incontinence can have a very significant impact on your quality of life.
The good news is that the majority of women who seek help for their bladder problems will experience significant improvement with appropriate assessment and treatment.
Female urinary incontinence can be caused by different disease processes and can be grouped in several distinct categories.
The most common type of incontinence is ‘stress incontinence’. Women with this problem experience urine leakage with increases in abdominal pressure (physical ‘stress’) from activities such as coughing, sneezing and exercising.
The next most common type of incontinence is ‘urge incontinence’.
This is often referred to as an ‘overactive bladder’. Urge incontinence occurs when you cannot hold urine long enough to reach the toilet in time. Urge incontinence is usually associated with a strong desire to pass urine.
If you suffer from a combination of stress and urge incontinence then you have ‘mixed incontinence’. Often a woman may first experience one kind of leaking and find that the other begins to occur later.
Other causes of urinary incontinence are less common and include overflow incontinence, fistula, functional incontinence and urethral diverticulum.