It is a widely cited fact that incontinence is more common in women – but why? What are the reasons for incontinence affecting more women than men? What are the types of bladder incontinence that mainly affect women?
Millions of Americans suffer from bladder incontinence. It does affect men, but women are more likely to have it than men. First, let’s take a step back and explore the 3 main types of urinary incontinence:
1. Stress Incontinence – Stress incontinence is the inability to hold urine in the bladder triggered by stress caused by sneezing, laughing or coughing. Stress incontinence may also result from lifting heavy objects. The muscles of the bladder become weak, and when there is pressure against the bladder, leakage occurs because the muscles cannot hold it in.
2. Urge Incontinence – Urge incontinence, also known as an overactive bladder, occurs when there is a sudden, uncontrolled urge to urinate. Overactive bladder is a type of urge incontinence.
3. Mixed Incontinence – Mixed incontinence is a combination of stress and urge incontinence and causes sudden involuntary leakage, or leakage caused by exertion, sneezing, coughing or laughing.
All three of these have varying causes. But the number one cause is weakened pelvic floor muscles. How do they become weakened? Childbirth, mainly. Smoking and the cough associated with years of smoking can contribute to incontinence. But the main culprit for women is childbirth. Another factor is weight gain. Obesity contributes to urinary incontinence because the added weight in the abdomen puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.
Childbirth is the leading cause of incontinence in women because injuries can happen to pelvic floor muscles during childbirth. The effects of these injuries may be seen right away, or they can take years to show up. During menopause, and as women age, the muscles slowly become weaker over time and the old injuries can cause incontinence. The pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, and when they cannot support your bladder, the bladder drops down. You are unable to tighten the muscles that close the urethra. So during exercise, jumping, sneezing or laughing, urine leaks out because of the extra pressure on the bladder – this is the definition of stress incontinence.