What Are the Main Causes of Incontinence in Women?

05 December 2017
Female Urinary Incontinence

As a woman, there are many medical problems that we may not be comfortable discussing or seeking help on, and one of the most frequent is that of incontinence. Ironically incontinence is one of the most frequent medical issues that women have to deal with and is something your GP will have dealt with thousands of times.

The good news is that once you power through your embarrassment and seek advice from your GP, in the vast majority of situations, there is a safe and easy solution to the problem. Many women presume that the only reason they now suffer from incontinence is due to pregnancy, and while pregnancy can be a key factor in incontinence it is not the only cause.

The Different Types of Urinary Incontinence

There are two different types of incontinence, and unfortunately, there are not mutually exclusive, so it is possible for one person to suffer from both types.

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress incontinence as it name implies causes urine leakage when the bladder is put under some form of stress. This could be something as simple as laughing, coughing or sneezing. In layman’s terms, stress incontinence is caused by a physical problem where the muscles that support the urethra and bladder for whatever reason have become weaker. This means that the muscles are then unable to contract as they previously would, meaning that the seal is not as tight, allowing the urine to leak particularly under times of stress.

There are a number of reasons why the muscles could have become weakened.

Age – As your body grows older, both the bladder and the vaginal muscles can naturally become weaker.

Hysterectomy – A Hysterectomy is quite a serious operation and obviously involves intrusive surgery in and around the reproductive system. There is obviously a raised risk of damage to the surrounding muscles which would include the bladder and the urethra.

Pregnant Lady

Pregnancy and Childbirth - As was mentioned above this is undoubtedly one of the leading causes of incontinence in women. During the pregnancy, there is extra weight and pressure applied to the uterus which can cause the muscles to stretch and weaken. During the birthing process, the movement of the baby along with the extra force required to push the baby out can stretch the muscles and tissues that support the bladder and urethra. These muscle groups are commonly referred to as the pelvic floor. As the muscles are weakened this can then lead to stress incontinence.

High Impact Exercise – Many younger women, who have never been pregnant or given birth also suffer from stress incontinence, and in these situations, a lot of the reason is down to high impact exercise such as Trampolining or CrossFit. The repeated action of jumping up and down puts a lot of pressure on the urethra which can then lead to incontinence.

Obesity – People who are obese can end up with incontinence due to similar reasons that affect pregnant women. The extra weight that an obese person carries will undoubtedly  increase pressure on the bladder, leading to incontinence.

Smoking or Other Respiratory Problems – Excessive or chronic coughing which can be caused by smoking, is yet another reason that can cause incontinence. If the muscles are being repeatedly stretched numerous times a day every day then at some point they will become weaker, and then leakage can occur.

Urgency Incontinence

Unlike Stress Urinary Incontinence, Urgency Incontinence is a symptom of other issues rather than a physical condition. Strangely, getting urgency incontinence could be a positive thing as it could highlight and identify other health problems that the patient might have otherwise never have known.

Urgency incontinence is when you feel a strong desire to visit the bathroom, but are physically unable to prevent yourself from urinating before you can make it to the toilet. As with stress incontinence, there are many potential reasons why someone could be suffering and the list below is by no means exhaustive.

Constipation – Sometimes when a person is constipated, the nerve endings can send the wrong signals to the brain. The brain then mistakenly thinks that the patient needs to open their bladder, and the incontinence event takes place.

Urinary Tract Infections – Urinary Tract Infections are certainly not pleasant, and another side effect of certain infections is incontinence. Look out for things such as a burning sensation accompanied by a strong almost painful urge to urinate.

Neurological Problems – The physical part of urination is controlled by the bladder, but the instructions that control the bladder originate from the brain. Sometimes Urgency Incontinence can be a symptom of a neurological problem such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson's Disease

These are just some of the causes of incontinence, and every case should be treated individually by the experts. There is no way that any internet website can accurately diagnose the problem, so the best advice would be to arrange an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and the quicker the issue is treated generally, the better the prognosis.

And remember that in the vast majority of cases the issue can be effectively managed and sometimes even cured.