STRESS incontinence is the most common type of urinary incontinence that affects women. It is the involuntary loss of urine occurring during physical activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, and sexual intercourse.
This occurs when the muscles that control the flow of urine become weakened and is often seen in women who have had multiple pregnancies and vaginal childbirths, and whose bladder, urethra or rectal wall stick out into the vagina (pelvic prolapse).
Some factors leading to the condition are childbirth, chronic coughing (such as chronic bronchitis and asthma), getting older, obesity, and smoking.
Stress incontinence may occur as a result of weakened pelvic muscles that support the bladder and urethra or because of a malfunction of the urethral sphincter.
The sphincter -- a circular muscle surrounding the urethra -- is the muscle that when squeezed, prevents urine from leaking out.
The sphincter is not able to prevent urine flow when there is increased pressure from the abdomen (such as when you cough, laugh or lift something heavy), resulting in the loss of urine.
The sphincter works along with the detrusor, which is the muscle of the bladder wall which must stay relaxed so that the bladder can expand.
The weakening of the muscles may occur as a result of injury to the urethral area, some medications and surgery of the prostate or pelvic area.
It is estimated that about three million people in the United Kingdom suffer from incontinence on a regular basis; this is about four in every 100 adults. Over half of these are due to stress incontinence.
Stress incontinence becomes more common in older women and as many as one in five females over the age of 40 is said to have some degree of stress incontinence.
The main treatment is exercise, to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles (pelvic floor exercises). If these do not help, persons can do surgery to 'tighten' or support the bladder outlet. For those who do not want surgery or for whom surgery is not suitable, medication in addition to exercise may prove effective.
-- Donna Hussey-Whyte