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Empowering women living with incontinence

August 28, 2012

By Micaella DiFelice

People often feel alone when dealing with incontinence; however with 1.8 million Canadians suffering from incontinence, it is more common than most think. There are numerous specialists and health physicians available to counsel and offer a variety of treatments for the condition, but many women have yet to come forward to speak on this sensitive topic.

By simply encouraging an open dialogue about incontinence, women can feel confident knowing that their condition can be easily managed and understood.

Women’s Health Matters spoke to Frances Stewart, advanced practice nurse and nurse continence advisor at Women’s College Hospital, about the different types of urinary incontinence, how to manage overactive bladder and how women living with the condition can prevent negative social isolation.

Understanding incontinence

“Urinary incontinence can affect a woman at any stage of her life,” says Stewart.  “The involuntary urge or frequency of urination is not something to be embarrassed about.”

According to Stewart, there are several different types of urinary incontinence that affect Canadians on a daily basis. The types of incontinence that affect most women today include:

  • stress urinary incontinence
  • overactive bladder
  • mixed incontinence; a combination of the two

Though both men and women are affected by incontinence, women are more prone to developing stress urinary incontinence after childbirth.

“Stress urinary incontinence is characterized by involuntary leakage due to activity or exertion such as coughing or sneezing,” says Stewart. 

Though the causes are unknown, there are certain things that are known to aggravate a person’s current condition. Stress urinary incontinence can occur due to external as well as internal factors.  Stewart notes the following can influence a woman’s susceptibility to stress urinary incontinence:

  • chronic coughs
  • heavy lifting
  • being overweight
  • post hysterectomy

Unlike stress urinary incontinence, other conditions such as overactive bladder, tend to be increasingly more common with age. Women who suffer from overactive bladder experience different symptoms than stress incontinence. Stewart notes four factors, which characterize an overactive bladder condition:

  • urgency
  • frequency
  • involuntary bladder contraction
  • waking up frequently during the night to urinate

Mind your fluid intake

Your favourite drinks could be the cause of your urinary incontinence, especially that morning coffee.  A person’s bladder is also sensitive to the types of fluid they drink on a regular basis. Caffeinated drinks are only one of numerous drinks that are directly linked with aggravating overactive bladder symptoms.

“Caffeine is a diuretic,” says Stewart. “It often times influences urge incontinence.”

To help avoid overactive bladder symptoms, being aware of the fluids that may irritate and cause involuntary bladder contraction. Stewart notes the following fluids should be avoided if you are experiencing symptoms of incontinence:

  • caffeinated products
  • citrus juices
  • limit alcohol intake

Stay hydrated and avoid overactive bladder by supplementing caffeine drinks with bladder friendly fluids. The following fluids are safest to drink in order to improve symptoms of overactive bladder and stress urinary incontinence:

  • water
  • cranberry juice
  • apple juice

Managing the types of fluid that make up your daily intake is only one of the many treatments and ways to control urinary incontinence. Additional methods to monitor your condition include exercise and keeping a regular journal.

Managing incontinence

There are several ways to manage urinary incontinence in order to avoid isolation and stress, which may worsen the condition. Certain lifestyle modifications can be easily integrated into your daily routine to treat your condition; the first step is to not be embarrassed to talk about it.

“Some patients that I have encountered have waited over 10 years before getting help,” says Stewart. “It is such a hidden and sensitive subject for some people that they avoid facing their condition.”

Stewart notes that it is best to consult your physician or a specialist before self-diagnosing a treatment. However, the following are some of the many ways that you can manage and treat your urinary incontinence:

  • bladder retraining
  • Kegel exercises
  • medication
  • certain over-the-counter absorbent products

Kegel exercises are the only exercise that can be done on a daily basis to strengthen pelvic muscles, which help support your bladder. Stewart notes that Kegels are great options for women with stress urinary incontinence as well as overactive bladder. This beginner exercise can be performed by anyone, at anytime of the day, which makes it much easier to commit to.

Stewart also recommends pairing your daily Kegel exercises with a comprehensive bladder diary to ensure a consistent routine and schedule. Keeping track of your incontinence with a diary will not only make you aware of your condition, Stewart notes that it will also help you manage your condition in the following ways:

  • charts your symptoms
  • facilitates proper diagnosis
  • trains your bladder

Internalizing concerns about incontinence will only deter patients from seeking proper care and guidance.  An essential part of seeking treatment is expressing your experience in order to avoid isolation and detrimental health outcomes.

“Women need to realize that they are not alone,” says Stewart. “Other people have the same condition, and it can definitely be treated.”

When a potential patient avoids speaking to a physician or specialist, other health problems could arise. Stewart notes that patient isolation could lead to the following:

  • decreased mobility
  • sleep disturbances
  • chronic urinary tract infections

Women with incontinence have an important voice that needs to be heard.  When one woman speaks about her experience with incontinence, she helps prevent social isolation for countless other women who are also living with the condition.  Empower others to share their stories to bring positive outcomes to incontinence.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital