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Questions for the Experts: What can women do if they suffer from urinary incontinence?

Questions for the Experts: What can women do if they suffer from urinary incontinence?

We asked members of our medical staff to answer some common questions they hear from their patients. Read Dr. Angela Biggs answer to: Sometimes I just can’t make it to the bathroom in time to avoid an accident. This is very embarrassing to talk about. What can I do about it?

Q: Sometimes I just can’t make it to the bathroom in time to avoid an accident. This is very embarrassing to talk about. What can I do about it?

A: You are not alone. Many women suffer from urinary incontinence, leaking urine anywhere from a few drops to completely emptying the bladder. There are several different types of urinary incontinence; the most common are urge incontinence, stress incontinence and mixed incontinence (a combination of both).

Urge incontinence is sometimes called overactive bladder, and a symptom is a sudden urge to urinate that is hard to stop. I advise my patients to keep a ‘bladder diary’ to see what triggers the urgency, like hearing running water, for example.

Limiting liquid intake at certain times of the day, cutting down on caffeine and weight loss can often help. Specialized pelvic physical therapy can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and help lessen the urge to urinate over time.

There are also medications that can decrease bladder spasms and increase sphincter control. Sometimes patients have to try several different medications because some can cause the side effects of dry mouth, dizziness and constipation.

Stress incontinence is when women experience urine leaks when coughing, laughing or sneezing. It can also happen when walking, running or exercising and often worsens with age. Women experiencing stress incontinence often have pelvic floor disorders, or weakening of the muscles and tissues of the pelvic floor. Physical therapy can also help with stress incontinence, but sometimes surgery is recommended. When I first began practicing these surgeries were pretty invasive and only 75-80% successful. Now they can be done on an outpatient basis under general anesthesia with a success rate of over 90%.

Any woman who is suffering from urinary incontinence should see their healthcare provider and not be embarrassed to talk about their symptoms. There are many treatment options available, but it is important to get a diagnosis of exactly what is causing their symptoms and then discuss what can be done. Many times small changes can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Editor's note: Angela Biggs, MD, FACOG, practices at Summit OB GYN in Gillette, Wyoming.