Incontinence: stress, urge and other types

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"Incontinence: stress, urge and other types

Urinary incontinence (Bladder weakness) is more common than many realize, with about one woman in three over the age of 45 and one in eight 18-23 year olds experiencing urine leaks. Only one third of these women seek professional help. In later life, incontinence is a major contributing factor in the decisions of elderly women and men to seek residential care. A new US study suggests that 9% of women suffer from fecal incontinence (Nygaard & others).

Urinary stress incontinence (leaking small amounts of urine when sneezing, coughing, exercising or otherwise putting the pelvic floor under stress) is the commonest form of incontinence amongst women.
Many women believe that it is a natural part of ageing but this is not true; it is not normal and no woman needs to tolerate it. There are options for treatment, the first and most important of which is pelvic floor exercising.
The other common type of incontinence is called urge incontinence, and some women experience and combination of both stress and urge incontinence. A stronger pelvic floor muscle has an important role to play in urge incontinence too. In addition to stress incontinence and urge incontinence, there are several other types of incontinence, and many excellent sources of information about incontinence generally.

Can pelvic floor exercises help with stress incontinence?
Research confirms the outstanding value of a sustained and regular program of pelvic floor exercise for women suffering from stress incontinence.

Most treatment guidelines globally state that any woman seeking professional help for stress incontinence should be recommended to try an exercise program first before resorting to other more invasive treatments or surgery. For many women, pelvic floor exercise - undertaken in a sustained and regular program - can largely, or even entirely, overcome the symptoms of stress incontinence.

The results show that pelvic floor exercises are an effective and low cost treatment for stress urinary incontinence rehabilitation. (Moreno and others)

Pelvic floor muscle training is effective in treating stress incontinence, with cure rates of up to about 85 per cent, according to Pauline Chiarelli, a physiotherapist and associate professor at the University of Newcastle. "If your stress incontinence is mild, success rates are likely to be even higher," she says. (The Australian, The Dangerous Downsides of Sit Ups, 29-30 May 2010)

Is exercising with pelvic floor devices even better?

YES! Although pelvic floor exercise works, research confirms that for many women exercising with an exerciser device is even better.

What about other types of incontinence?

Pelvic floor exercises are useful for all women, and everyone can benefit from strengthening the pelvic floor. A stronger pelvic floor is a factor in overcoming urge incontinence too, and products such as electronic muscle stimulators in particular, have also been shown to be very useful for women with urge incontinence. However successful treatment of urge and other types of urinary incontinence, and fecal incontinence, require more than an exercise program. Women suffering from urge incontinence, combined urge and stress, or fecal incontinence are advised to seek professional help from a gp or women's health physiotherapist.
If you are not sure what type of incontinence you have, or are not sure where to start, talk to your health practitioner, see a women's health physiotherapist.