Menopause and Urinary Incontinence
Menopause presents a range of challenges for women going through this transitional stage of life. While some women breeze through menopause and view the cessation of menstruation as a liberating experience, many women are plagued with uncomfortable and distressing side effects of menopause, making their journey a rocky road. Some of the well-known symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, mood swings, depression, dry skin, and weight gain. Another common but less well known side effect of menopause is urinary incontinence.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence can otherwise be described as a leaky bladder, an overactive bladder, or loss of bladder control. In mild cases one might lose a few drops of urine while exercising, sneezing, or coughing. This is known as "stress incontinence." In more severe cases there is a strong and sudden urge to urinate, followed by leakage of a large amount of urine. This is known as "urge incontinence." Urinary incontinence can ultimately reach a debilitating point where sufferers stop going out in public for fear of an embarrassing episode. Incontinence can also occur during sex, causing further embarrassment and distress.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence During Menopause?
Urinary incontinence related to menopause is the result of hormonal changes occurring in a women's body during the menopause phase. Incontinence occurs when the bladder's muscles and nerves which hold and release urine become weak. Estrogen normally protects the vagina and urethra by keeping the vaginal tissues elastic and by promoting flexibility and strength in the bladder wall. Low estrogen levels before and during menopause can lead to low muscular pressure, giving rise to urine leakage.
Treating Urinary Incontinence
Women with this condition are advised to see a gynecologist, obstetrician or an urologist who specialize in the female urinary tract. You may be asked to keep a bladder diary for a few days and/or to measure your urine to help identify the extent of the problem. Your doctor might perform other tests such as measuring your bladder pressure and capacity, urinalysis, ultrasound, or cystoscopy.
One behavioral form of treatment is Kegel exercises, designed to help strengthen your pelvic muscles so that they can better hold in urine. Kegel exercises involve squeezing and releasing the pelvic muscles for a few seconds at a time, over a certain number of repeats. Kegel exercises take only a few minutes a day but most women report marked improvement in their urinary incontinence symptoms after just a few weeks.
Other possible treatments include medication, biofeedback, vaginal devices, injections, and in the most extreme cases surgery.
Urinary incontinence is very common in women, and especially around the time of menopause. It is a medical condition that one not need be embarrassed by. Fortunately, even in its more severe forms urinary incontinence is highly treatable.