Menopause and Incontinence
Incontinence can be a very embarrassing problem for both men and women alike. In particular, menopausal women find incontinence difficult to deal with - one day they are fine, and the next they can no longer control their bladders. No one wants to have to deal with bladder problems; much less go to the doctor to discuss it. But urinary incontinence is a problem that can be easily treated if not solved. If you find that you are avoiding certain situations, rescheduling your day, or getting little sleep at night because of incontinence, you may benefit from one of the convenient therapies available today.
What is Incontinence
Incontinence refers to the involuntarily loss of urine from the body. It may leak, drip, or rush out, depending upon the type of incontinence that you are suffering from. Incontinence may also be accompanied by a continual urge to go to the bathroom or a feeling of fullness in the bladder. One of the most common menopause symptoms, more than 40% of menopausal women suffer from incontinence.
An organ called the bladder is responsible for collecting urine produced by your kidneys. The bladder is a sac that can only hold so much liquid. When it is full, the liquid must be expelled through the urethra, and this happens during urination. Pelvic muscles and a sphincter are trained to keep your body from expelling the urine until you are ready. When it is time to go to the bathroom, special nerves in your pelvis send signals to your brain. The pelvic muscles remain contracted until you are prepared for urination.
As menopause hits, women often find themselves rushing to the bathroom at the most inconvenient times. During menopause, estrogen levels in the body drop dramatically. Estrogen is responsible for keeping the urethra and the lining of the bladder healthy. It also stimulates blood flow to the pelvic region, increasing strength in the pelvic muscles. As your estrogen drops, you may find that your pelvic muscles are simply weaker than they were before. These muscles may not have enough strength to hold the opening to your bladder closed. This is what causes the unwanted leakage of urine. Pregnancy and vaginal birth can contribute to weakened pelvic muscles in menopausal women, as can the natural aging process.
Types of Incontinence
There are four different types of urinary incontinence.
- Stress Incontinence: Stress incontinence is caused by sudden pressure in the abdomen that pushes on the bladder. Sneezing, coughing, laughing, and jumping can sometimes push down on the bladder causing leakage.
- Urge Incontinence: Urge incontinence is the most common type of incontinence, and is often experienced by menopausal women. This type of incontinence makes you suddenly feel like you have to go to the bathroom, sometimes catching you off guard.
- Mixed Incontinence: This type of incontinence is caused by a mixture of both stress incontinence and urge incontinence.
- Overflow Incontinence: During overflow incontinence your bladder cannot empty completely. As a result, your bladder will fill up very quickly making you feel like you need to go to the bathroom very frequently. Leakage is common.
Treatment for Incontinence
Many women are simply too ashamed or embarrassed to seek out treatment for their incontinence. A lot of women accept incontinence as an "inevitable" part of menopausal life, but this need not be the case. If incontinence is turning your life upside down, talk with your doctor or decide on the treatment that is right for you.
There are also a number of incontinence products available on the market today. These incontinence supplies include incontinence pants and incontinence pads, both of which can help you avoid an embarassing accident if you can't make it to a washroom in time.
There are a variety of treatments that you can do yourself at home to help strengthen your bladder and cure your incontinence products.
- Diet: Changing your diet in a few simple ways can help to reduce your symptoms of incontinence. Limiting the amount of caffeine you take in can help stop excess urination. Caffeine functions as a diuretic, which will exacerbate your incontinence. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to flush out any bacteria that may be accumulating in your bladder. Eat a balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Kegel Exercises: Pregnant women have long used Kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic muscles for delivery. These exercises also work wonders for helping to prevent incontinence. Lie on the ground with your legs apart and feet flat on the floor. Gently contract the muscles around your vagina, urethra, and anus. Hold this contraction for a few seconds and then release. Continue these exercises, completing 3 sets of 15 each day. Soon your bladder will be back in control.
- Bladder Retraining: You can retrain your bladder in order to encourage less frequent urination. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water and delay urination for five minutes. Every day, drink more water and delay urination by a little bit longer, working up to a delay of 15 minutes. Your bladder should begin to hold more urine and you will need to urinate less frequently.
Medical and Surgical Treatment
If your incontinence is causing severe troubles in your everyday life, there are some treatments that your doctor can prescribe, including incontinence surgery.
- Pessaries: Pessaries look like little umbrellas and are designed to hold your pelvis up, off your bladder. These pessaries are easily inserted and can really decrease the amount of pressure on your bladder.
- Cones and Balls: Cones and balls that can be inserted are available to help train your pelvic muscles to contract appropriately.
- Bladder Swings: Bladder swings can be surgically implanted into your pelvic region if you are experiencing continued incontinence. The swing supports the bladder, preventing it from being pressured by other organs.
- Electrical Stimulation: This procedure involves sending electric pulses to your pelvic muscles. These pulses train your muscles to contract and allow new nerves to grow. The result is similar to Kegel exercises.