How to manage stress incontinence

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
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Incontinence. A word from which we all shy away but which many of the Australian population will experience in their lifetimes. Two million women have a weak bladder from time to time and put up with it in silence, thinking that it's too embarrassing to address — but it needn't be a problem if managed in the right way. The occasionally weak bladder doesn't mean that it is beyond help, and there are ways to deal with cases that are mild to moderate.

Doctors classify weak bladders into two main categories: those caused by stress and those by urge. Here we take a look at how you can self-manage your body to strengthen your bladder.

What is stress incontinence?
Many of us experience a weak bladder from time to time, often when laughing, coughing or sneezing — these are some of the actions that put sudden stress on the bladder. When it is not supported by strong muscles, the sphincter muscle that controls urine flow may temporarily lose its "grip", resulting in bladder weakness.

Isn't it just old people who experience this sort of thing?
No. The majority of people who experience occasional bladder weakness are normal, active and healthy people. The good news is that there are a number of ways in which you can manage your bladder control. Take the signs of a weak bladder seriously — but rest assured it's perfectly normal, and especially for mums over the age of 30.

How is stress incontinence caused?
A common reason for the occasionally weak bladder is natural childbirth, which can affect pelvic support of the uretha (the passage through which we pass urine), and sometimes the urethra's sphincter muscle (the muscle that halts and relaxes the flow of urine from the bladder). It can also be caused by pregnancy itself and even by hormonal changes during the menopause. You could almost say that having a weak bladder is part of being a woman — but it can be managed with a positive attitude and a few simple steps.

How can I help to manage a weak bladder?
Through muscle contraction and relaxation, you can strengthen the muscles that control your bladder, the pelvic floor muscles. These contractions are called Kegel exercises. The great news is that these exercises can also help to improve your enjoyment of sex —a double incentive to try them out.

There are other lifestyle indicators that can help you out, too. Maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking and reducing your intake of diuretic fluids such as coffee, cola and alcohol may also help to prevent irritation to your bladder. Some studies have also shown that limiting your intake of citrus fruits, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners and milk products may limit irritation — you might find it helpful to keep a diary of what and when you eat, as well as triggers that result in a weak bladder, for example, sneezing.

Keep an eye on your fibre intake, too, as being constipated may put pressure on your bladder, and learn to go to the toilet regularly to empty your bladder instead of waiting until the last minute when you are literally bursting to go!

Bladder weakness is by its nature unexpected, and for absolute confidence and peace of mind, you may choose to wear pads while at work or while out and about. These days some brands look like sanitary protection and are found in the same aisle too. Pop a packet in your trolley and get cracking on those exercises — worrying about bladder weakness will soon be a thing of the past.

Where can I get further information?
To help you feel more secure, Stayfree® brand has introduced the Advanced Protection™ range. With its DriLock3™ technology, it absorbs up to three times more fluid than a "normal" pad, leaving you feeling dry and fresh.

Visit for your complimentary sample and full information about the range, or call 1800 029 979 for more product information

®™ Trade Mark Johnson & Johnson

And remember, if after three months, regular pelvic floor exercises and dietary management don’t help, seek medical advice from your GP. He or she will be able to advise if you're one of the few people who need further treatment.

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