Urological Conditions - Female Urology
Overview of Urinary Incontinence in Women
Millions of women experience involuntary loss of urine called urinary incontinence (UI). Some women may lose a few drops of urine while running or coughing. Others may feel a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine. Many women experience both symptoms. UI can be slightly bothersome or totally debilitating. For some women, the risk of public embarrassment keeps them from enjoying many activities with their family and friends. Urine loss can also occur during sexual activity and cause tremendous emotional distress.

Women experience UI twice as often as men. Pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and the structure of the female urinary tract account for this difference. But both women and men can become incontinent from neurologic injury, birth defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and physical problems associated with aging. Older women experience UI more often than younger women. But incontinence is not inevitable with age. UI is a medical problem. Your doctor or nurse can help you find a solution. No single treatment works for everyone, but many women can find improvement without surgery.

Incontinence occurs because of problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or release urine. The body stores urine-water and wastes removed by the kidneys-in the bladder, a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body.

During urination, muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass out of the body.

Incontinence will occur if your bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine. Urine may escape with less pressure than usual if the muscles are damaged, causing a change in the position of the bladder. Obesity, which is associated with increased abdominal pressure, can worsen incontinence. Fortunately, weight loss can reduce its severity.
The Types of Urinary Incontinence

Stress
Leakage of small amounts of urine during physical movement (coughing, sneezing, exercising).

Urge
Leakage of large amounts of urine at unexpected times, including during sleep.

Overactive Bladder
Urinary frequency and urgency, with or without urge incontinence.

Functional
Untimely urination because of physical disability, external obstacles, or problems in thinking or communicating that prevent a person from reaching a toilet.

Overflow
Unexpected leakage of small amounts of urine because of a full bladder.

Mixed
Usually the occurrence of stress and urge incontinence together.

Transient
Leakage that occurs temporarily because of a situation that will pass (infection, taking a new medication, colds with coughing).



Learn about Incontinence in Men

 
Additional Reference Documents (PDFs):

Urinary Incontinence in Women  NKUDIC: NIH Publication No. 08-4132 October 2007

References:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
AND HUMAN SERVICES

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases
Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)

National Institutes of Health
NIH Publication No. 08-4132
October 2007

Websites for Additional Information:

AUAFoundation - The Official Foundation of the American Urological Association

NKDEP - National Kidney Disease Education Program

NKUDIC-National Kidney and Urologic Diseases
Information Clearinghouse

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases
Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)Kidney and Urologic Diseases A-Z list of Topics and Titles

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