Many women suffer from “happy little accidents” – and no, we don’t mean of the Bob Ross variety. We’re talking about those moments you have a good laugh, or a big sneeze, and a little bit of urine sneaks out to join the party. This unwelcome guest is referred to as urinary incontinence, and is typically a consequence of weakened pelvic floor muscles.
Many women have simply accepted incontinence as part of their life, especially as they get older. It’s much more common in women than in men, due to urethral structure and childbirth. In most cases, it’s harmless, but for some it may be a symptom of something more problematic. If you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to incontinence, it may be time to call your doctor:
It’s interfering with your quality of life
Incontinence may simply be a consequence of life – a natural weakening of the pelvic muscles due to age or childbirth. But even if there is no harmful underlying medical cause, it can still be a major inconvenience that impacts your quality of life. Treatment is available. Ask your doctor about options, including lifestyle changes, pelvic floor exercises, medical devices, or surgery.
Pain and burning
If you experience pain or burning in addition to an increased urge to urinate, you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply. Your doctor can determine whether or not you have a UTI by conducting a urine analysis. If you test positive for a UTI, you’ll be treated with antibiotics.
Difficulty with “Number Two” may be affecting your “Number One.” If you have infrequent bowel movements, excess fecal matter may put pressure on your bladder and cause leaks and accidents. Contact your doctor for ways to combat constipation.
A consistently “full” bladder
Do you constantly have to “go,” even though you JUST went? If so, you may be suffering from urinary retention, which is the inability, or perceived inability, to fully empty your bladder. Urinary retention is a common symptom of interstitial cystitis and neurogenic bladder, two bladder disorders caused by nerve damage to the pelvic area.
Typically, as the bladder fills with urine, the urine applies pressure to the pelvic nerves, and these nerves signal to the brain that it is time to urinate. If the nerves are damaged, the signals malfunction and the patient feels a “phantom” sensation to urinate more often and with increased urgency, even if there is little urine available to expel. The condition often results in pain and discomfort, which may have adverse effects on the afflicted individual’s physical and mental health.
Damage to the pelvic nerves can result from a variety of factors, including traumatic injury to the pelvis, surgery, childbirth, congenital disorders such as spina bifida, neurological disorders, infection, or heavy metal poisoning. If you experience urinary retention that causes discomfort, contact your doctor about further testing and treatment options.