If you've ever experienced bladder leaks, it's nothing to be embarrassed about – in fact, it's time to talk about them...
Incontinence is often thought to be something that affects us when we get older, but the truth is that two thirds of all women in the UK experience it at some point in their lives.
According to Always Discreet, 60% of women who struggle with bladder leaks admitted they’re too ashamed to discuss it, with almost a third taking a year or more to ‘admit’ they had an issue.
That’s why it’s so important that we talk more openly about incontinene: one, to normalise it and, two, so that people don’t feel too embarrassed to seek help and support.
‘There are many different types of bladder incontinence which is why it is so important you speak to your doctor,’ explains Dr Anita Mitra, aka the Gynae Geek. ‘If you get the right diagnosis, the doctor can advise on the most effective treatment for you.
‘The most common types are stress and urge incontinence. Stress incontinence is when you experience leaks due to stress on your bladder from the likes of coughing, laughing or exercising. Urge incontinence is when you struggle to reach the toilet in time. Women can also experience a mix of both.’
Dr Anita has teamed up with Always Discreet for #WeeNeedToTalk, a campaign that encourages women to open up about incontinence; to quote her recent Instagram Q&A, ‘If it bothers you, bother someone out about it‘ and see your doctor. Here’s what you need to know to be in the know…
Bladder leaks may happen at any age (and are more common than you think)
‘Bladder leaks are far more common than you think in younger women. Research from Always Discreet found that almost two thirds of people aged 18-24 have experienced them. You can experience them at any age for a wide range of reasons, such as weight gain, the impact of surgery or even your diet. The most important thing is to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns – because it is not something you simply have to put up with.’
Reducing your liquid intake doesn’t prevent leaks
‘A lot of people believe that if they reduce their liquid intake, they reduce their chances of bladder leaks. In fact, this can have the opposite effect. If your urine is very concentrated it can irritate your bladder and make leaks more likely. It is very important that you drink enough water throughout the day.’
Bladder leaks CAN be treated, and not just with surgery
‘In most cases, there is always something that can be implemented to better improve your bladder leaks. There are different types of bladder weakness so I’d advise a trip to the doctor to help you first establish the cause, in order to find the best course of action for your situation.
‘Surgery is an option but it’s not the only one. Everyone is different and while some people require physio to see improvement, others may be better suited to medication. People often underestimate the benefits of simple pelvic floor exercises which, when done properly and consistently, can greatly improve symptoms in a lot of cases.
The menopause does not make you incontinent
‘Many people believe that bladder leaks are just part of going through the menopause and although experiencing them during your menopause it is not uncommon, it doesn’t mean it is something you have to put up with. A drop in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone around menopause can cause the bladder and pelvic floor tissues to become thinner and weaker, making you more prone to leaks. It’s important that you speak to your doctor as there is usually something you can do about it. Don’t accept it as a process of the menopause, there are ways of improving and managing it.’
Pelvic floor exercises won’t always cure incontinence
‘There are various types and different causes of incontinence and while pelvic floor exercises can help considerably in some cases, they won’t always cure all forms of bladder leaks. That being said, pelvic floor exercises do help many women see a marked improvement and they’re a particularly effective treatment for those with stress incontinence. This is when your bladder is put under too much stress over a prolonged period and can be brought on during pregnancy or due to weight gain. People experiencing stress incontinence finding themselves leaking when they run, cough or laugh for example. There is no harm in everyone exercising their pelvic floors to start strengthening them up over time!’
Strong abs don’t = strong pelvic floor
‘This isn’t necessarily true; athletes commonly have weak pelvic floors due to the huge strain that intense training can put your body under. Although your abs and core muscles can contribute to the strength of your pelvic floor, you can easily have rock hard abs and a weak pelvic floor, and vice versa. The two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand so pelvic floor exercises are just as important as any other exercise.
Your diet can have an impact
‘Diet can definitely act as a trigger for bladder leaks, especially those suffering with stress incontinence, when the bladder is put under too much pressure. If you are constantly constipated, you are putting your bladder under access pressure, which could lead to leaks. A lot of diets nowadays focus on eliminating carbs from, however this often results in us not eating enough fibre and so causing constipation. Sometimes we can miss the signs of being constipated because we often consume a lot of caffeine which helps you open your bowels even though you may not be eating enough fibre.
‘Caffeine can also trigger leaks because it can irritate the bladder and acts as a diuretic so can increase your chances of becoming incontinent. If you are experiencing bladder leaks, it’s worth reducing your intake of caffeine to see if this improves the symptoms.’
As can your period
‘It is not uncommon for women to experience increased bladders leaks in the build-up and/or during to their period. The increased progesterone levels may act as a muscle relaxant. Due to your bladder and pelvic floor being a muscle, it can make leaks more likely. However, just because it is not uncommon doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. It might be you just need some physio, or it might be a symptom of a more underlying issue. By speaking to your doctor, you can find the right treatment.’
Incontinence and pregnancy & childbirth
Opting for a caesarean doesn’t prevent incontinence
‘A C-section is not an effective way of preventing damage to your pelvic floor. During pregnancy the weight of your baby puts prolonged pressure on your pelvic flhttps://www.marieclaire.co.uk/life/health-fitness/pelvic-floor-421759pelvicoor which can cause it to weaken to the point where many women first experience bladder leaks during pregnancy. Although having a vaginal delivery can cause further weakening, just being pregnant has a huge part to play in the weakening of your pelvic floor.’
Just as using forceps during a birth doesn’t cause incontinence
‘Your doctor will only suggest an assisted birth if it is the best thing for you and your baby. Being fully dilated for an extended period of time puts a huge strain on your pelvic floor. A very long period of pushing on top of that, can impact your pelvic floor more greatly than the use of forceps themselves.’
If you didn’t do pelvic floor exercises before or during pregnancy, it’s still worth doing them afterwards
‘It is equally important to do you pelvic floor exercises after your pregnancy, as during. Ideally, I would suggest you do them before, during and after pregnancy, however being a muscle, the pelvic floor is never beyond repair. This means, it is never too late to start.’
If you’re worried about incontinence, you can call Bladder Health UK’s confidential advice line on 0800 4334 600
Note that the purpose of this feature is to inform, not replace one-to-one medical consultations. For advice tailored specifically to you, always discuss your health with a doctor.