Living with urinary incontinence is more than an inconvenience. Bladder control problems can affect your self-image, interfere with your daily routine, and limit your social interactions.
Unfortunately, many women are too embarrassed to discuss this sensitive condition so they suffer in silence. Since urinary incontinence becomes more common with age, affecting about 35% of women over age 65, it’s common to assume that the condition is a natural part of aging.
Whether you experience occasional leaking or sudden strong urges, effective treatments can free you from the burden of urinary incontinence at any age and allow you to resume normal bladder control.
Our OB/GYNs at The Association for Women’s Health Care in Chicago and Northbrook, Illinois, provide expert urogynecology services for women experiencing urinary incontinence.
After conducting a thorough physical examination and assessing how your bladder, sphincters, and urethra function together, your physician makes a diagnosis and recommends an appropriate treatment that can help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Types of urinary incontinence
There are several types of urinary incontinence. Women usually experience either stress incontinence or urge incontinence.
The most common type of incontinence in women is stress incontinence. The condition develops when pelvic floor muscles weaken as a result of childbearing, aging, or hormonal changes.
These weaker muscles put additional stress or pressure on the bladder and urethra during certain types of activities. Stress incontinence can cause urinary leakage with physical exertion, sneezing, coughing, laughing, or lifting.
Urge continence, also called an overactive bladder, makes you feel a strong and sudden urge to urinate. The urge may feel so intense that you can’t hold your urine long enough to get to a restroom. Urge continence can produce episodes of urgency at least eight times a day and twice every night.
Noninvasive treatments for urinary incontinence
After your diagnosis, we determine a plan for treatment based on the type and cause of urinary incontinence you’re experiencing. Your treatment plan depends on your age, overall physical condition, and the severity of your symptoms.
If you have a mild to moderate case of urinary incontinence, we may recommend conservative, non-invasive treatment. This can include behavior changes, medication, and/or medical devices to treat your symptoms.
If noninvasive treatment is right for you, you may be advised to do one or more of the following:
- Perform Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and urinary sphincter
- Limit your consumption of fluids
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can stimulate urine production
- Lose weight to remove unnecessary pressure on your bladder
- Take medication approved for your type of urinary incontinence
- Urinate on a schedule that trains your bladder to extend the time between voiding
- Wear a vaginal pessary, a soft internal device that supports your bladder
- Use urethral inserts, tampon-like devices that can prevent embarrassing incontinence for a specific time or activity
Surgical treatments for urinary incontinence
If you have more severe symptoms, we may recommend surgical procedures, since these options can provide more predictable and permanent solutions for urinary incontinence.
One common treatment involves nerve stimulation. It requires the surgical placement of a neuromodulator at the base of your spine. The device sends mild electrical pulses to the sacral nerves, which control the contractions of your bladder muscle.
The normalized pulses are effective in preventing the bladder from sending false signals between your bladder and brain. The result reduces your urination frequency and uncontrolled urgency. Since the neuromodulator doesn’t work for everyone, you’ll likely wear it for a trial period before it’s inserted.
Urge continence can also be controlled with percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS). PTNS involves the insertion of a thin needle under your ankle. The needle is positioned near the tibial nerve, which is a branch of your sciatic nerve.
An exterior stimulator transmits pain-free impulses to the tibial nerve through the needle. The tibial nerve sends the impulses to the sacral nerve.
Each PTNS session typically lasts a half hour. Treatment usually involves 12 weekly sessions or more if necessary to relieve symptoms.
For stress continence, a common surgical technique involves the use of a sling.
In this outpatient procedure, a sling or hammock-like fixture is created from your tissue, synthetic mesh, or animal or human donor tissue. The fixture relieves pressure from your bladder by supporting your urethra.
Urinary incontinence can improve at any age with accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Schedule an appointment online or call our Chicago or Northbrook office to arrange a consultation.