You probably know that urinary incontinence is accidental leakage of urine from the bladder. But you may not know that there are several types of urinary incontinence, including stress, urge and mixed incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when pressure inside the bladder and pelvic cavity rises, putting pressure on a weak pelvic floor. These structures cannot withstand the increased pressure and urine leaks. This is common during coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting or other effortful activity. Urge incontinence occurs when the need to urinate arises so quickly or intensely that accidental leakage occurs before a person can get to the restroom. And mixed incontinence is a combination of both stress and urge incontinence.
It is estimated that 25 million people are affected with this disorder. Although the majority of those suffering from urinary incontinence are women, both men and women can be affected. Between 30% and 60% of women over the age of 60 and 1.5% to 5% of men over 65 have symptoms of incontinence. In addition to the loss of self-esteem, confidence and social interactions associated with urinary incontinence, the financial impact is huge. Each year in the US $3.8 billion are spent each year on medical treatments for urinary incontinence. Individual patients spend an additional $370 million annually on incontinence related products such as absorbent pads, special clothing, medications and insurance co-payments. There is good news however, the majority of people can make significant improvements using a physical therapy treatment program. For 69% to 85% of patients who suffer from stress, urge or mixed urinary incontinence, symptoms can be drastically reduced or even eliminated in a relatively short period of time. And these changes can be permanent.
Bladder function is controlled by a group of muscles known as the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles form a hammock that spans the distance between the pubic bone in the front and the tailbone in the back. This hammock helps to support the pelvic organs, including the bladder. If these muscles have adequate strength and endurance, good bladder function and continence is the result. However, if the pelvic floor muscles are weak or fatigue quickly, urinary incontinence may occur. But like most muscles, the pelvic floor muscles can be trained and strengthened.
The most effective physical therapy treatment program targets the particular functions of the pelvic floor muscles. In addition to general strengthening exercises, biofeedback for the pelvic floor muscles is often used. This provides a patient with a visual representation of the force and duration of the contractions that their pelvic floor muscles are able to produce. In addition, a Physical Therapist trained in the treatment of urinary incontinence will educate patients regarding lifestyle changes that will also help alleviate the symptoms of urinary incontinence. Often, treatment not only improves the symptoms of urinary incontinence, but also improves core muscle strength and stability as well as sexual appreciation.
Many people who suffer from urinary incontinence wait a long time before seeking medical help for this problem. The average female patient waits as long as 8 to 10 years. But the passage of time often only serves to make the problem worse.
If you or someone you know is affected by urinary incontinence, talk to your doctor. Lakeland Rehabilitation Services, Health Park in Royalton Township offers physical therapy treatment for men and women suffering from urinary incontinence through their Pelvic Health Program. For more information call 269-428-2799.
There are many potential risk factors for urinary incontinence, including age-related changes in strength, decreased mobility, smoking, menopause, certain neurological diseases, a prolonged labor or the birth of a large baby.