Living with incontinence is stressful and embarrassing, yet a more common issue among women than you might think. To be specific, we’re talking about Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI). SUI is the loss of urine caused by pressure or stress placed on the urinary tract due to exertion during activity. These can include daily activities such as running, laughing, sneezing, coughing or even standing up. Causes of urinary incontinence range from aging, childbirth, obesity, high-impact activities over the years, to nerve damage and muscle control loss after a surgery or procedure or even genetics. In addition, women are more likely to experience SUI due to the changes our pelvic floor muscles and nerves go through during pregnancy, after childbirth and menopause. In fact, about 30% of women will experience SUI 5 years after their first vaginal birth.
Let’s Talk About SUISo, if SUI is a common problem that millions of American women struggle with and can be triggered by doing the most simple of activities, why isn’t it discussed more? Obviously, embarrassment is a huge factor. It is a challenge trying to live day-to-day life while experiencing leaks just laughing at a joke or sneezing. Most adults have mastered the art of the restroom and have had the skill set for years, so admitting to leaks or even occasional bedwetting is difficult to do, even to a doctor. Another reason, is some see incontinence as a normal sign of aging. According to the Mayo Clinic, while age may be a factor in the loss of muscle control or nerve damage related to SUI, it is not the sole factor for stress incontinence. So, although older people may seem to suffer from incontinence more than younger people, SUI can occur at any age and chances are there’s more contributing to the symptoms. Having open conversations about SUI and how we can help each other has value when you consider how many it impacts in daily life. This disease affects so many and doesn’t discriminate. Any person at any age and of any background can suffer from SUI symptoms. So let’s start the conversation.
How SUI Effects YOU & our EarthIf you are struggling with the effects of having SUI, you already know the daily impact it has. It changes how you approach activities, relationships, and overall mental health. Performing daily tasks that require physical movement that may put stress on your bladder are second-guessed or put off. Some women may experience incontinence during intimacy, affecting personal and romantic relationships. The embarrassment of leakage can impact self-confidence and overall mental health, especially in women experiencing SUI during hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause. Even if you personally aren’t experiencing Stress Urinary Incontinence symptoms yourself, the chances are high that you know someone who is. One choice many women make to cover up leaks is disposable liners, much like pantyliners. These help contribute to the over 200,000 tons of menstrual waste generated each year. If you consider how many individuals in the U.S. alone use disposable products for leaks, SUI can have a larger impact than just on the individual.
What Can You Do to Help Symptoms?What can you do if you’re suffering from leaks and urges when you perform activities? First, contact your doctor to make sure that the cause of your leakage isn’t something more serious like an infection. In addition to wearing liners or pads to help with leaks, here are some suggestions that may help your SUI symptoms:
DietHaving a diet with an excess of caffeine, carbonation or alcohol may make SUI symptoms worse. Try cutting one or all of these from your diet and see if they have any impact on your urges or leaks. In addition, changing your diet could help reduce body fat which may be applying extra pressure to the bladder and contributing to leaks. Remember to always consult a health care professional before making changes to your diet.
KegelsKegels are exercises meant to engage and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help solve a variety of problems including incontinence. People who suffer from stress incontinence, urge incontinence and even fecal incontinence may benefit from these exercises. The Mayo Clinic gives a step-by-step guide to correctly do kegel exercises:
- Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles you can do the exercises in any position, although you might find it easiest to do them lying down at first.
- Perfect your technique. To do Kegels, imagine you are sitting on a marble and tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're lifting the marble. Try it for three seconds at a time, then relax for a count of three.
- Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on only tightening your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
- Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions a day.