How Physical Stress Can Cause Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence (UI) is a common condition that affects more than 25 million Americans. If you’re one of them, you know how UI can impact every part of your life. Enjoying a night out with friends and family or even going to work or the gym all have the potential for an embarrassing situation.

Medications and products that treat UI are popular subjects for commercials and advertisements, yet ironically many patients don’t even broach the subject with their doctors. 

According to a National Poll on Healthy Aging report, which surveyed 1,000 American women aged 50-80, despite acknowledging that they have UI, a vast majority never mentioned it to their doctors. Specifically, 43% of women 50-64 and 51% of those 65 and older reported having urinary incontinence, but two-thirds of them never discussed their concerns with their doctors.

The good news is that urinary incontinence is treatable. You don’t have to isolate yourself or chalk it up as something you have to accept as a part of aging or being a mom. The first step is gaining a better understanding of the condition. 

Our expert OB/GYN, Dr. Brandon M. Lingenfelter, shares his insights on the role that stress plays in urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence explained

First let’s clarify how a functioning bladder should work and what we mean by stress incontinence. When your body is working in tip-top shape, urine drains from the kidneys to the bladder. Once your bladder is full, a message is sent to the brain to say it’s time to go to the bathroom.

From there the process is controlled by muscles, more specifically, the urethral sphincter. Unintentional urine leakage happens when something interferes with the relaxation and contraction of the bladder muscles, which controls the flow and stoppage of urine. 

Stress incontinence is a common type of urinary incontinence, especially in women. It relates to stress in the context of physical pressure on your bladder, not emotional strain or anxiety. Weakened muscles from pregnancy and childbirth are among the most common causes of stress UI. Aging or a lung condition that causes a lot of coughing can also lead to stress UI..

Here are some kinds of activity or pressure that can cause stress incontinence.

Lifting or carrying a heavy object

Women who suffer from stress incontinence have weakened bladder muscles, so any undue pressure on stomach or pelvic muscles when you lift or carry something heavy can trigger urine leakage. Sometimes just standing up from a sitting position may cause urine leakage.

Sneezing, coughing, or laughing

In much the same way, sudden or dramatic body movements caused by coughing, sneezing, or a good belly laugh can also play a role in stress incontinence. Although these movements may seem subtle in comparison to moving a heavy object, the results may be the same when it comes to unintentional urine leakage.

Rigorous exercise

High-impact exercise like jogging, running, or lifting weights can also contribute to stress incontinence. Even sexual intervourse can cause UI. Again, it’s all about the pressure on your bladder. 

Urinary incontinence is emotionally stressful, too

Women who suffer from incontinence may also suffer from anxiety and depression. Perhaps the association is simply due to embarrassment, isolation, or pulling back from social situations due to concerns about experiencing UI in the presence of other people. In any case, it’s fair to say that depression and anxiety can be complications of experiencing chronic urinary incontinence.

We understand your sensitivity about this subject. We’ve helped many patients regain control to live a full, active life again -- a life that doesn’t include always knowing where the closest bathroom is. Effective treatments for stress incontinence may include physical therapy, a change in lifestyle habits, or tension-free vaginal tape. 

If you experience urinary incontinence when you cough, sneeze, or are physically active, make your appointment now so we can find out what’s going and recommend the treatment option that’s right for you. Use the online booking tool here on the website, or call our office in Princeton, West Virginia.

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