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How to Care for Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a condition that results in the involuntary loss of urine.  It is a condition that affects millions of American men and women.  As we age, our body undergoes many changes.  Some of these changes involve the urinary tract and may lead to incontinence as men and women get older.

Both men and women may develop urinary incontinence, but several actions exist that women, specifically, can take to decrease or even limit involuntary release of urine.

The skin around the outside of the vagina in women is called the vulva.  This area includes the skin around the urethra and the vaginal lips, or labia.  Frequently, in incontinent women, this area is red, raw, and sore from urine irritating the skin.  These tips may help make women more comfortable and avoid irritation of the bladder, urethra, and surrounding skin.

Women who are incontinent should avoid synthetic or nylon underwear or synthetic pantyhose.  Instead, use full underwear made of cotton, also avoiding thongs and g-strings.  In addition, women may find that washing underwear in pure soap or soap flakes, instead of harsh detergents, may reduce irritation to the vulva.  Also, women should not wash the vulvar area no more than twice a day, using only plain water or mild soap.

Although bath oils, bubble baths, and bath salts feel nice, women with incontinence should avoid them.  The ingredients in relaxation baths can be very irritating to the already sensitive skin of the vulva.  Vaginal deodorants or douches should be avoided.  And tampons should not be used as they may irritate the bladder and urethra.

After bathing, gently dry the vulvar area with a towel.  Women may use a hair dryer on cool or low setting to dry the area completely.  If a powder is necessary, use corn starch and not talcum powder.

Finally, drink plenty of pure water.  Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and cola.  Alcohol should also be avoided, especially excessive amounts of alcohol, as it also irritates the bladder and urethra.

Urinary incontinence can be helped and in many cases may be cured with proper treatment.  If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of urinary incontinence, contact your physician to discuss treatment options.

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Urinary Incontinence in Men

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is an accidental release of urine. It is a symptom of a greater problem of the urinary tract.

Why does it happen?

-      Urine may leak out if your bladder squeezes too hard, or at the wrong time.

-      Additionally, weak or damaged muscles around the urethra can cause incontinence.

-      If your bladder doesn’t empty when it should, too much urine will remain in the bladder and possibly cause leakage.

-      Urine can build up in the bladder and leak if something is blocking the urethra.

Urinary incontinence is more prevalent in older men than in younger men, but it is not a normal part of aging.

What are the different types of urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can be short-term (caused by other health problems or treatments), or long-term (chronic). The different types of chronic urinary incontinence are:

-      Stress incontinence- Occurs when you sneeze, cough, laugh, lift objects, or do something that puts stress on the bladder.

-      Urge incontinence – An urge to urinate that is too strong to make it to the toilet in time. It also occurs when your bladder squeezes when it shouldn’t.

-      Overflow incontinence – When your bladder doesn’t empty when it should, and leaks urine later. This occurs when the urethra is blocked or the bladder muscles are weak. The blockage could be due to a narrow urethra or an enlarged prostate.

-      Total incontinence – When you are always leaking urine. This occurs when the sphincter muscle no longer functions.

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Weight Loss and Urinary Incontinence in Women

A new study from the University of Bergen in Norway suggests that it might not be how much weight a woman gains during pregnancy, but how much she loses afterward that affects her post-childbirth urinary incontinence risk.

Previous research has demonstrated that excess weight, especially abdominal weight, is correlated with a heightened risk of urinary incontinence in women. Additionally, overweight and obese women who lost weight reduced their risk of developing incontinence.

Urinary incontinence is also related to pregnancy, and many women have problems with leakage during pregnancy. Additionally, vaginal delivery is a risk factor for developing urinary incontinence at some point in a woman’s life. Until now, it was not clear whether the amount of weight a woman gains during gestation affects her risk of incontinence before or after childbirth.

The new study discovered only a weak relationship between pregnancy weight gain and the risk of incontinence, and there was no correlation between the amount of weight gained during pregnancy and the chances of incontinence six months after delivery. However, researchers did find that women who shed more pounds after childbirth had a lower risk of incontinence six months after having their baby, and that weight gain post-delivery was linked to an increased risk.

“For decades,” lead researcher Stian Langeland Wesnes explained, “obstetricians have assumed that weight gain during pregnancy to a large degree could explain the peak in urinary incontinence during pregnancy, but scientific proof of the hypothesis has been lacking.”

He and his colleagues speculate that it is possible that the type of weight gain matters. For non-pregnant women, body fat is the main culprit of weight gain. However, during pregnancy, much of the excess weight is due to the fetus, placenta and increased body fluids.

This suggests that there may be something about body fat — possibly alterations in hormone levels — that affects the risk of urinary incontinence. However, Wesnes cautioned that more research is still needed on the subject.  However, according to the researchers, current findings suggest that “weight loss postpartum, together with pelvic floor muscle training, may decrease the prevalence of urinary incontinence in women postpartum.”

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Study Shows Urinary Incontinence Often Untreated in Diabetic Women

According to a report presented at the 2010 American Urological Association’s Annual Scientific Meeting, doctors should pay more attention to the possibility of urinary incontinence (UI) in their female diabetic patients. 35% of the population reports weekly episodes of urinary incontinence, sometimes more.

The report also revealed that diabetic women are less likely than nondiabetic women to seek treatment for their UI, and also have more depression and less knowledge of the disorder.

“Given that diabetic women with IU may not report their symptoms to their physician, coupled with the fact that their UI may lead to depression, we believe that it is extremely important that physicians who care for women with diabetes routinely screen them for UI,” explained Michelle Y. Morrill, MD, director of urogynecology for Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, California.

“The good news is that effective treatments are available for UI. It’s unfortunate that diabetic women are often denied such treatments simply because we don’t know they suffer from UI.”

Dr. Morrill also cautioned that questionnaires are not the best method to screen for UI. “Screening questionnaires can be cumbersome when trying to address all general health issues for patients at a check-up,” she reported. “My recommendation is to say to a patient: ‘Many women experience urinary urgency or leakage. For women who are bothered by these symptoms, there are a variety of treatments, ranging from exercises to medications and surgery. Are you interested in learning more about these treatments?’”

However, Dr. Morrill stressed that further research is needed to determine why diabetic women are more likely to develop UI, and to improve UI prevention and treatment strategies.

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