Stress incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence that is caused by weakness in the pelvic floor muscles. This then means that any type of physical stress, such as sneezing, coughing or being jolted in the car can be enough to cause incontinence. This can be very unpleasant for sufferers to live with and is potentially embarrassing as well as impractical.
So what causes stress incontinence? And what can you do about it?
Stress incontinence can affect pretty much anyone but is most common in older women. As we get older, the pelvic floor muscles can become weaker just as all muscles can and this is often severely exacerbated by childbirth. Often childbirth can actually cause direct trauma to the sphincter or pelvic floor muscles even and this can then result in stress incontinence and other problems.
In men, the most common cause of stress incontinence is actually prostate surgery. Men with prostate cancer may undergo surgery to remove the prostate gland (prostatectomy) and this can then result in damage to the pelvic floor muscle.
Other contributing factors include obesity, smoking, high impact activities, hormone deficiencies or chronic coughing and sneezing.
There are several different options available to those with stress incontinence. One option is surgery which can be used in order to repair damage to the muscle or to add additional support to the bladder outlet.
The first port of call normally though will be pelvic floor exercises. There are a number of exercises such as kegel exercises which are designed specifically to strengthen this muscle and this can often be very effective in preventing stress incontinence. To identify what it feels like to tense your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping your pee mid flow and taking note of where you feel the tension. If you can reproduce this tension to contract the muscle, you can then train and strengthen it at any time. Some sufferers refer to something called 'the knack' which involves tensing this muscle just prior to laughing or sneezing. Yoga actually incorporates a number of exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscle and so is very good for those with stress incontinence or who are pregnant.
Other management tips include avoiding diuretics, not drinking too much (or too little) and giving up smoking.