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What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Learn the tips doctors share with their patients who suffer from urinary incontinence.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,

Imagine this: You are leading a large business meeting where you have to deliver an important speech. You drank a cup of coffee in the morning to wake yourself up, and right before your meeting, you feel the urge to go.  As you run to the ladies room (caffeine is a diuretic), you lose it.  You were almost there.  But your bladder couldn’t make it.  And now you have urine running down your entire leg, soiling the new suit you purchased for today’s special occasion.  If you run home now to change, you’ll be late for your meeting.  What to do?

Women describe situations like that to me in the doctor’s office too often--and not only postmenopausal women, but young, healthy women too.  Most women with this problem have had previous pregnancies and deliveries.  Carrying and delivering a baby can be tough on our bodies, and can permanently change our pelvic anatomies.

What is Urinary Incontinence?

Involuntary leakage of urine is called urinary incontinence. Some women may leak urine on their way to the bathroom, and others may leak with coughing, sneezing, or laughing.  Many admit that they wear a feminine pad on a daily basis “just in case.”

Women are reluctant to discuss this topic with their doctor because they may feel embarrassed.  But it is very prevalent, and because it affects day-to-day activities, it can greatly diminish the sufferer’s quality of life. It also affects women’s self-esteem, their careers, and sexual functioning, and can even cause depression.

What Are the Different Types of Urinary Incontinence?

Believe it or not, there are various forms of urine incontinence in medicine -- categorized based on the cause of each.

Urge incontinence:  Those with urge incontinence report a sense of great urgency when needing to void.  These are my patients who typically lose it before making it to the bathroom.  With urge incontinence, the bladder muscles contract and are therefore termed “overactive,” squeezing the urine out of the bladder, into the urethra, and then out of the body.

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