The Link Between Urinary Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Disorders

An estimated 13 million women in the United States experience urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence (or loss of bladder control) can significantly affect a woman’s quality of life and self-esteem. It’s important for those experiencing urinary incontinence to know that you’re not alone and there are treatment options available.

Understanding Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. Urinary incontinence is a common condition among women, with age being a significant risk factor. Other factors include prior pregnancies, mode of delivery, genetics and certain medical conditions.

The two most common types of urinary incontinence are:

  • Stress incontinence, which is characterized by the loss of urine with activities that put pressure on the bladder such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting heavy objects. It occurs when support to the urethra become weakened. This type is more common in women after childbirth, but is also associated with chronic cough, constipation and aging.
  • Urge incontinence, which is characterized by a sudden and strong urge to urinate resulting in leakage. This type becomes more prevalent as women age and tends to be quite bothersome due to volume of the leakage.

The Role of Pelvic Floor Disorders

Pelvic floor disorders play a role in urinary incontinence. The pelvic floor is made up of muscles and ligaments supporting the pelvic organs. Childbirth, hormonal changes during menopause and the natural aging process can weaken the pelvic floor. Additionally, conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse, where the pelvic organs descend from their normal position, can occur with pelvic floor changes.

Treatment Options for Urinary Incontinence

The good news is that there are various treatment options available to control urinary incontinence, including:

  1. Lifestyle modifications, including managing fluid intake, avoiding bladder irritants (caffeine, artificial sweeteners, citrus) and maintaining a healthy weight.
  2. Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels (a common pelvic floor exercise), are designed to strengthen the muscles responsible for bladder control. Regularly performing these exercises can help reduce leakage. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help guide the technique for improved success.
  3. Behavioral therapies, such as bladder training and urge suppression strategies, can help manage urgency and frequency as they focus on retraining the bladder.
  4. Medications can be prescribed to relax the bladder muscles and reduce sudden urges.
  5. Minimally invasive procedures can be performed for persistent urge incontinence that doesn’t respond to conservative treatment.
  6. Surgical interventions can provide support to treat stress incontinence.

At NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health and Swedish Hospital, our urogynecology team is here to help you overcome urinary incontinence and pelvic floor disorders. To learn more, visit us online or call 773-907-3038.

Lauren Westbay, MD, a urogynecologist with Swedish Hospital, reviewed and approved this article.