Even in this oversharing age, there are still some problems we're reluctant to discuss or admit to having. And if you're one of the millions of women who experience urinary incontinence, you probably do everything you can to keep the world from knowing about it. (What's with those TV ads where women cheerily chat to the camera about their bladder leaks? Come on! Would you go up to a total stranger and start talking about panty liners and bathroom visits?) Still, whether or not you're affected by incontinence, it's important to be informed about this topic, as well as what to do to keep the condition from interfering with your daily life.
The first thing to realize is that there are several forms of urinary incontinence, according to WebMD. The most common form in younger women, the site explained, is stress incontinence, which is caused by a weakening of the muscles around the opening of the bladder, as can happen during pregnancy or childbirth. As a result, anything that puts pressure on the bladder, like coughing, sneezing, or laughing, can cause unexpected urine leakage.
A different type of bladder leak is urge incontinence, which is caused by bladder spasms that can occur when the bladder muscles and nerves are inflamed or damaged. Women with this condition often feel a sudden uncontrollable urge to pee — just hearing the sound of running water can trigger an episode — and the leak can be substantial. Finally, there's overactive bladder, in which sufferers feel a more-frequent-than-normal need to go. Overactive bladder doesn't cause leaks, but it can make life inconvenient for women who fear being too far from a restroom at any given time. Certain medications, such as hypertension meds, can worsen the problem.
If you're feeling the need to go more often than usual, or if you've begun leaking urine unexpectedly, your first step should be to consult your doctor to determine the cause of the problem and discuss options. Some cases of urinary incontinence can be treated with medication, biofeedback, or a pessary, a device inserted vaginally that helps support the bladder and reduce leakage, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The good news is that, like any other muscle, the pelvic floor (the muscles surrounding the lower pelvis) can be strengthened through regular exercise. With your doctor's permission, you can try these easy exercises to help support these muscles and reduce the likelihood of an embarrassing bladder mishap.