At best, it’s embarrassing. At worst, it can lead to social and professional isolation.
But it shouldn’t be shameful, or a source of embarrassment, because it’s a medical condition, just like so many other medical conditions.
In fact, nearly 13 million people are affected by some type of urinary incontinence – which is why we’re willing to demystify it and talk about it.
Talk about the types of urinary incontinence and what, if anything, can be done about them.
The 8 Types of Urinary Incontinence
While it may seem like all bladder conditions are the same, there are really several types of urinary incontinence – and they’re caused by different conditions.
Total incontinence. This is the rarest type of urinary incontinence, so we’ll touch on it and then get it out of the way. This is when a person loses all control over bladder functions. It’s only caused by injury or severe physical debilitation.
Urge incontinence. This type of urinary incontinence is characterized by a sudden urge to urinate – thus its name – followed by losing urine, often before you can get to the bathroom. Part of what makes urge incontinence so frustrating is you don’t even have to have a full bladder to experience the urge to go – but it can still create urgency and cause leaking. More than 12 million people struggle with this type of urinary incontinence, and it occurs more often the older you get.
Stress incontinence. If you leak when you laugh, sneeze, or cough, you are one of the millions of people who have this type of urinary incontinence. Weakening of the pelvic floor is the primary cause of stress incontinence, so make sure you work on your Kegels!
Mixed incontinence. This is the most common type of incontinence, and includes symptoms of both urge and stress incontinences. With mixed incontinence, you may feel sudden, uncontrollable urges and have to deal with leaks whenever you put any pressure on the bladder at all.
Overflow incontinence. In some cases, another medical condition can prevent your bladder from emptying completely. When that happens, you might leak because you have more urine in your bladder than room – and that’s called overflow incontinence. It’s sometimes referred to as the opposite of urge incontinence, because you probably won’t feel any indication that you have to go to the bathroom. While it can happen in women, it occurs more often in men.
Transient or temporary incontinence. This type of incontinence is caused by some other medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection, a surgical side effect, or a medication. Once the primary condition has been resolved, the incontinence goes away as well.
Functional incontinence. In this instance, the bladder is functioning properly, but some other part of the body isn’t. For some reason, the person with functional incontinence cannot get to the bathroom in time. Frequent sufferers of this type of incontinence may have a form of dementia or other physical ailment that keeps them from registering that they have to urinate or from moving fast enough to get there in time.
So What Can Be Done About Urinary Incontinence?
The good news is that most types of urinary incontinence can be resolved without much effort.
Start with the Kegel exercises mentioned earlier. These help strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor, which in turn helps reduce, and sometimes even eliminate, leaks. While most women know about them, men can benefit from Kegels as well!
To perform a Kegel properly, start with figuring out which muscles to flex. When you’re urinating next, try to stop the flow. Those muscles are the ones you’ll use for Kegels – just be certain not to do Kegels while you’re going to the bathroom! Instead, try lying or sitting in a comfortable position and flex those muscles. Hold the flex for a count of ten and relax.
Do this as often as you think to do it. The best part about Kegels is that once you get good at them, you can do them anywhere and no one will notice.
If Kegels aren’t enough to resolve your type of urinary incontinence, consider bladder and muscle retraining. Start by scheduling bathroom breaks. Maybe you need to go every hour, or every two hours. The key is to go on schedule, even if you don’t feel like you need to. Once your body understands the schedule, start adding time between bathroom breaks.
This will teach your body to hold it longer and has been found to be particularly effective with urge and mixed types of incontinence.
Remember, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about having any of these types of urinary incontinence – but there’s plenty you can do about them.