Are all women destined to have bladder issues as they age?
Many women believe so – or friends, family or medical providers may have told them this. However, this does not have to be the case.
Urinary incontinence, or bladder leakage, can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable problem that affects tens of millions of women. Although it becomes more common as women age, it can affect younger women as well.
As a medical provider, it saddens and frustrates me when I hear patients say, “I thought this was a normal part of aging, so I have just been living with it.” This is a disservice to women.
Joint arthritis, high blood pressure, back pain and even cancer can be “normal” parts of aging, but these issues and diagnoses are routinely treated. Fortunately, for those affected, there are effective modern treatments that constantly continue to improve, and the same is the case for female incontinence.
A “normal” frequency of urination is considered to be eight or fewer times per day and once at night, though this depends upon each woman’s daily fluid intake.
There are two different types of female incontinence: The two most common types in women are stress urinary incontinence and urge urinary incontinence.
Stress urinary incontinence is best described as bladder leakage from a laugh, cough, sneeze or other instances when abdominal pressure increases. This type of incontinence happens when muscles or tissue around the urethra (the urinary channel) do not stay closed properly when there is increased pressure in the abdomen. Even activities such as running or bending can cause this type of urinary leakage.
In women with urge urinary incontinence, there is a sudden uncontrollable urge to urinate, with the potential for urine leakage on the way to the bathroom. Women with urge incontinence may also find that they do not always leak urine, but visit the bathroom every 30-60 minutes, even though they do not have a full bladder -– which can be just as debilitating. The cause of urge urinary incontinence is inappropriate bladder spasms and is also sometimes termed an “overactive bladder.”
Did you know you can have a mix of both types of incontinence?
Call it bad luck, but some women experience both stress and urge urinary incontinence. When this happens, the focus becomes treating the most bothersome type of incontinence first. Sometimes, treating the most bothersome problem also lessens the secondary type of incontinence.
What should you do if you have incontinence as a female?
Don’t be deterred by feelings of embarrassment or uncertainty – seeing a professional about your issues, no matter how small, is a great first step. The goal of treatment is to improve a woman’s quality of life and comfort. Sometimes all you may need are some lifestyle modifications, education or dietary advice.
At Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, the urology department works very closely with our nationally recognized pelvic floor physical therapy program. Visits with their team are frequently helpful.
In other cases, medications and procedures are also an option. Every patient is different and should feel empowered to make their own treatment decisions regarding incontinence care. We are here to listen, educate and provide evidence-based care.
Remember: Female incontinence does not have to be something you “just deal with” – we would love to help.
Kaycie Cartwright is a board-certified physician assistant and Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center’s first female urology provider. Cartwright has been with HRRMC since April 2022 and supports Dr. Cole Wiedel in the HRRMC Urology Clinic at the Outpatient Pavilion on HRRMC’s main campus in Salida.
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