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Female Urinary Incontinence

Urinary Incontinence Information:


What is urinary incontinence (UI)?

UI is also known as 'loss of bladder control' or 'urinary leakage.' UI is when urine leaks out before you can get to a bathroom. If you have UI, you are not alone. Millions of women have this problem, especially as they get older.

Some women may lose a few drops of urine when they cough or laugh. Others may feel a sudden urge to urinate and cannot control it. Urine loss can also occur during sexual activity and can cause great emotional distress.

What causes UI?

UI is usually caused by problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or pass urine. Urine is stored in the bladder. It leaves the body through a tube that is connected to the bladder called the urethra. Look at the images below to see how this process works. Muscles in the wall of the bladder contract to force urine out through the urethra. At the same time, sphincter (ss-FINK-ter) muscles around the urethra relax to let the urine pass out of the body.

Incontinence happens if the bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine.

UI is twice as common in women as in men. Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are major reasons why. But both women and men can become incontinent from brain injury, birth defects, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and physical changes associated with aging.

What are the types of UI?

Stress incontinence – Leakage happens with coughing, sneezing, exercising, laughing, lifting heavy things, and other movements that put pressure on the bladder. This is the most common type of incontinence in women. It is often caused by physical changes from pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. It can be treated and sometimes cured.

Urge incontinence – This is sometimes called "overactive bladder." Leakage usually happens after a strong, sudden urge to urinate. This may occur when you don't expect it, such as during sleep, after drinking water, or when you hear or touch running water.

Functional incontinence – People with this type of incontinence may have problems thinking, moving, or speaking that keep them from reaching a toilet. For example, a person with Alzheimer's disease may not plan a trip to the bathroom in time to urinate. A person in a wheelchair may be unable to get to a toilet in time.

Overflow incontinence – Urine leakage happens because the bladder doesn't empty completely. Overflow incontinence is less common in women.

Mixed incontinence – This is 2 or more types of incontinence together (usually stress and urge incontinence).

Transient incontinence – Urine leakage happens for a short time due to an illness (such as a bladder infection or pregnancy). The leaking stops when the illness is treated.

How do I find out if I have UI?

Schedule a visit with Dr. Young Kim. He will ask you about your symptoms and take a medical history, including:

How often you empty your bladder

How and when you leak urine

How much urine you leak

Dr. Kim will do a physical exam to look for signs of health problems that can cause incontinence. He also will do a test to figure out how well your bladder works and how much it can hold. For this test, you will drink water and urinate into a measuring pan. Dr. Kim will then measure any urine still in the bladder. Your doctor also may order other tests such as:

Bladder stress test — During this test, you will cough or bear down as the doctor watches for loss of urine.

Urinalysis — A urinalysis tests your urine for signs of infection or other causes of incontinence.

Ultrasound — Sound waves are used to take a picture of the kidneys, bladder, and urethra.

Cystoscopy — A thin tube connected to a tiny camera in the urethra to look at the inside of the urethra and bladder.

Urodynamics A thin tube is inserted into your bladder and your bladder is filled with water. Dr. Kim then measures the pressure in the bladder.

Dr. Kim may ask you to write down when you empty your bladder and how much urine you produce for a day or a week.

Young Kim MD specializes in urinary incontinence