Waterworks 101: Introduction to female urinary incontinence

Ed. note: The content of this article pertains to bodily functions and female anatomy. Reader and parental discretion is advised.

FEATURE – Female incontinence (involuntary loss of urine) is extremely common. More than 50 percent of women will suffer from it at some point in their life. It can be caused by different problems, or even a combination of issues. This article will introduce you to the main causes of female incontinence and how they can be treated.


What are common causes for female incontinence?

Most female incontinence occurs after a very large object passes through the birth canal – a baby. Childbirth often stretches the tissue around the urethra so that it no longer supports the urethra effectively. Lack of estrogen after menopause also reduces urethral performance.

As a result, urine leaks when there is increased pressure in the abdomen. Leaking may occur while coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or even while rising from a bed or chair. This type of incontinence is called stress incontinence.

Another type of incontinence is called urge incontinence. Think of this as “gotta go, gotta go!” This can be triggered by overactive bladder muscles or nerves. An intense urge to void can be triggered by arriving home, hearing running water or by feeling water run over hands and feet. Sometimes, urge incontinence occurs because an individual ignores the first or second urge, or simply cannot walk quickly enough to get to the bathroom.


How is incontinence treated?

There are several treatment options for incontinence. Treatments are particular to the type of incontinence.

Treatment for stress incontinence includes Kegel exercises, weight loss (if overweight), and treating chronic cough (if present). Reducing fluid intake, voiding on a timed schedule and quitting smoking may also help. Certain devices have been developed to help, but these need to be used properly. A specialized molded plastic device can be placed in the vagina to assist with incontinence. Also, a urethral insert can be placed to prevent leakage.

Urge incontinence can be treated many different ways. Some of our favorite foods and drinks cause overactive bladder: Caffeine, carbonation, artificial sweeteners, citrus juices and spicy foods. Voiding on a timed schedule, rather than waiting for the urge, reduces incontinence. Kegel exercises are one of the mainstays of treatment for both urge and stress incontinence. Overactive bladder medications can also treat urge incontinence effectively. Finally, direct treatment of overactive bladder muscles or nerves reduces leak-causing urges.

Modern surgical options for stress incontinence include urethral slings and urethral bulking injections. During the injection procedure, the surgeon injects a substance just outside of the urethral wall to bulk up the sphincter region. This allows the walls of the urethra to come together better to reduce incontinence.

The most common surgical repair of stress urinary incontinence is the urethral sling. This procedure provides support to the urethra like an arm sling supports an arm. The sling material literally wraps under the urethra, recreating the absent surrounding tissue support.

What does all this mean?

If you experience urinary incontinence, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of the majority. The most common forms of incontinence are related to urgency (gotta go!) and stress (leaking with laughing, coughing, sneezing, exercising). Treatment options include lifestyle modification, dietary change, bladder retraining, pelvic floor exercises, bladder nerve treatments, medication, vaginal or urethral devices, urethral injection or urethral slings.

Proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment leads to more dryness. And that is something we can all be happy about.

Dr. Gregory Taylor
Dr. Gregory Taylor

Written by Dr. Gregory Taylor for St. George Health & Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Taylor is a board-certified urologist who joined St. George Urology in 2006. He completed residency at Oregon Health and Science University, medical school at the University of Utah and undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University. Aside from his professional life, he enjoys Southern Utah’s outdoors with his family and his dog, Fergus.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc. and St. George Health and Wellness magazine, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Megals April 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

    The frequency that Utah women pump out babies, it’s no wonder they end up wearing depenz or adult diapers in their adult years. After having a ton of kids, instead of Kegals, they may need to do Megals or Gigals or even Teragals to tighten that area and control the leak.

    • Bub April 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm


      • Megals April 1, 2014 at 5:56 pm

        K = 1,000; M = 1,000,000; G = 1,000,000,000; T = 1,000,000,000,000

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