It is thought that about one third of women suffer from stress incontinence. It is the most common form of incontinence. The symptoms are accidental leaks of wee when you laugh, cough, sneeze, lift or exercise. Stress incontinence regularly occurs during pregnancy, due to the hormone relaxin, which softens the muscles, but often goes after the birth. However it is also particularly common in the five years after childbirth as this can weaken the muscles and it is also more likely as we age.
Stress incontinence is caused by a muscle at the bottom of the bladder, which doesn?t stay closed when it should and therefore leads to leakage. Also, premenstrually, the hormones can affect the pelvic floor muscles and make the symptoms worse. Obesity and constipation can put added pressure on the muscles and increase the chances of stress incontinence. The menopause often weakens the pelvic floor and therefore increases the possibility of such problems. Smoking and health conditions that make you cough can also make stress incontinence worse, since the coughing can weaken the muscles. Giving up smoking is recommended for those with stress incontinence.
One solution to this problem is pelvic floor exercises. These involve tightening and releasing the muscles around the anus and then around the vagina on a regular basis. I do this when waiting for a bus or in a queue at the shop, at least it feels like I am doing something useful with my time!!
This exercising can also be done by the use of vaginal cones which are inserted in the vagina and are held there by the pelvic floor muscles. You tense the muscles up to hold the cone in place initially for one minute. There are varying size cones to be used as the muscles get stronger and the period of time can also be lengthened. I have never tried this so I do not know what it is like. If necessary there is also medication and surgery that can be used to help the problem, but for most people it is just a bit of a nuisance and nothing more serious.
Stress incontinence can occur in men, but it is uncommon and often the result of either an accident or surgery.
This article is not meant to constitute medical advice, please contact your doctor if you have any concerns.
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