Also known as loss of bladder control, incontinence affects approximately 17 million people in the United States, many with no accompanying health problems. Incontinence is more common in women (female urinary incontinence) than in men (male urinary incontinence). In fact, a study has found that among women aged 20-80, more than half experienced some level of female incontinence (ranging from mild leaking to uncontrollable wetting); and even among women 20-49, the pervasiveness was 47 percent. But what is incontinence? And how and why does female incontinence occur?
The anatomy of urination
The body stores urine—water and wastes removed by the kidneys—in the bladder, a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine is expelled.
Urination involves a coordinated progression of functions. First the bladder muscles tighten, pushing urine from the bladder into the urethra, the tube that transports it out of the body. When the bladder muscles contract, smooth muscle tissue around the urethra relaxes to help pass the urine. The spinal nerves control these muscles. When any of the actions involved during urination happen involuntarily, leakage results.
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is an inability to control the release of urine from the bladder. Urinary incontinence (UI) is also known as the lack of bladder control and is medically defined as involuntary leakage of urine or the inability to control the flow of urine from the bladder. Female incontinence typically occurs due to problems with the muscles and nerves that enable one to hold or release urine.
Types of incontinence
There are two main kinds of chronic incontinence: stress and urge urinary incontinence. The majority of women don’t experience pure stress or urge incontinence. For some women, stress and urge incontinence often occur simultaneously. Combinations of incontinence—this combination in particular—are identified as “mixed incontinence”.
Functional incontinence- People diagnosed with medical problems that interfere with thinking, moving, or communicating can have trouble reaching the toilet. Functional incontinence results from these physical and medical conditions. For example, someone experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, may not think well enough to make a timely restroom trip. A wheelchair-bound person may also have difficulty getting to a toilet in time. Other conditions such as arthritis develop with age and account for some incontinence of elderly women in nursing homes.
Overactive bladder - Abnormal nerves can send signals to the bladder at the wrong time, causing the muscles to squeeze without warning. Voiding seven times a day is normal for most women, but those with overactive bladder may find that they urinate more frequently.
Overflow incontinence - When the bladder doesn’t empty properly, it can spill over, causing overflow incontinence. Overflow incontinence is the rarest type for women.
What causes incontinence? And what women are at risk of developing problems with bladder control? Continue reading here for more on risk factors and causes of incontinence.
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