Home > Body > Health > The Lowdown On ‘Stress Urinary Incontinence’ And How to Overcome it.

So, you’ve had your baby. Thankfully all is well, and you’ve instantly fallen head over heels with your little bundle of joy. As part of your post-natal recovery, you try to fit in as many pelvic floor exercises as possible, and yet, ever so often you have the sudden urge to pee, and you have to dash Usain Bolt style to the toilet to prevent an accident. Worse still, whenever you find yourself in fits of laughter after meeting up with the girls, you experience a bit of leakage, but you feel too ashamed to admit it. Sound familiar? If so, you could be suffering from female incontinence aka stress urinary incontinence, and you are certainly not alone. “Stress urinary incontinence is a common condition affecting an estimated 30% of women worldwide,” says Mr Paul Fiadjoe FRCOG, Lead Consultant Urogynaecologist at Mid and South Essex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “Two thirds of these women suffering from SUI do not seek help. It can occur at any stage of life, with risk factors including pregnancy and childbirth, obesity, menopause and ageing. It is caused by a weakness in your pelvic floor, preventing your urethra (the tube that urine comes out of) from closing fully when sudden pressure is put on your bladder, causing leakage. SUI is the most common bladder control problem in young and middle-aged women.”

SUIs can affect you during any time of your life

The severity of stress urinary incontinence differs from one individual to another. Some women may find that a bit of urine leaks when they laugh, cough, sneeze or lift something heavy. Other women may find they experience the sudden urge to use the toilet, and when they reach, they discover that they’ve leaked much to their distress. Contrary to belief, stress urinary incontinence can occur at any time during a woman’s life, not only after they give birth. Wendy Gough shares her story of the factors that led her to having a sacral nerve implant to control/cure her overactive bladder, which had impacted her since childhood. She says, “At age 34 I fell pregnant with our daughter. My family and friends were concerned given my history of incontinence how this would affect my condition, but I suffered with no UTI’s, no incontinence and carried my daughter full-term. My daughter was a breach so I had to have an emergency caesarean. This gave me a new lease of life, for the first time in my life I was not having to worry about having an accident. However, when my daughter was 18 months old and ironically, we started potty training her, my symptoms returned. I had recurring UTI’s frequency, urgency and no control. It was very difficult to explain to a child that if she needed to go to the toilet she needed to let us know a good time, when you can’t do that yourself.”

How it relates to pregnancy and childbirth

While its true that SUI can occur at any time, there’s no denying that pregnancy and giving birth can stretch and weaken the pelvic muscles so those pelvic floor exercises that everyone from your midwife, health visitor to your Mum keeps bleating on about are crucial to improving and maintaining good pelvic health. “Pelvic floor muscle training can dramatically help to reduce the symptoms of stress urinary incontinence in most women, particularly when put into practice in the early days/weeks following childbirth when performed on a daily basis,” explains Mr Paul Fiadjoe FRCOG, Lead Consultant Urogynaecologist. “There still remains a certain stigma attached to stress urinary incontinence, despite it affecting so many women. More awareness and education among women generally, but particularly among pregnant women and new mums is needed to help prevent women suffering the often-debilitating effects of SUI, which can also greatly affect levels of confidence and self-esteem and cause much anxiety and even depression among some women.”

The treatments available

Due to the sensitive nature of SUI many women decide to suffer in silence rather than see their GP about their symptoms. However, if left untreated, the condition is likely to worsen resulting in continual urinary tract infections, skin irritation to more serious conditions like kidney damage. Thankfully there are a number of treatments available that can help to alleviate the symptoms of SUI, and if traditional methods of physio and pelvic floor exercises aren’t doing the job, there are innovative, alternative treatments available like bladder neck bulking and implantation treatments. Vix Williams had suffered with SUI throughout her childhood and young adult life and had reached the point where it became a source of frustration until she opted for a bladder neck bulking procedure named Bulkamid, a water-based hydrogel that’s administered intravenously to minimise symptoms. She says, “It was only when I got into fitness and noticed straight away that I would leak whenever I did anything jumping up or down or too strenuous. I just thought it’s what happens after having kids and getting older. But the final straw was when I struggled to improve the weights in my weight-lifting – I would hold myself back and not really push for a personal best as I knew I would wet myself in doing so. It was so frustrating as I had finally discovered a sport I was potentially good at. Luckily, I had heard about bladder-neck bulking procedure and my consultant suggested I tried it. It has totally transformed my life especially in my weight-lifting.”

As all parties interviewed for this feature have stressed the importance of seeking medical intervention as quickly as possible. As Wendy says, “I’d advise women to push their GP for a referral to a specialist. You do not have to live with incontinence, there are lots of therapies out that that can give you back your life. My life has changed since having implant treatment, I am a much more confident person.”

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