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A quick guide to urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is simply the regular but sudden loss of urine that you cannot control. If you suffer from incontinence, you’ll know that the result can be embarrassing and inconvenient.

There are four recognized types of urinary incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence: the most common form in which sudden, powerful movements such as coughing, sneezing, exercising or laughing cause leakage of urine
  • Urge incontinence: when you experience an inexplicably intense desire to urinate and a release of urine you can’t control
  • Mixed incontinence: a combination of urge and stress incontinence
  • Overflow incontinence: unexpected urine release when you’ve already recently been to the toilet, which happens when the bladder isn’t able to fully empty at once

What is it and why do I have it?

Click to play videoThe reason for urinary incontinence is usually that your urethra – the tube that carries urine from your kidneys and out of your body – doesn’t hold itself closed in the normal way. But why isn’t your urethra holding in urine as it should?

You might be experiencing problems because of a lack of strength in the underlying pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue, or in the sphincter that usually holds the urethra shut.

And it’s not just an ‘old person’s’ problem: it can affect women of any age. Stress incontinence in particular affects a huge number of women – some suggest 1 in every 3 experiences it to some degree! Urinary incontinence can be the result of pregnancy and childbirth, obesity, menopause, or repeated straining and heavy lifting.

How can it be treated?

A surgical procedure using a product called Gynecare TVT (tension free vaginal tape), or TOT (transobturator free vaginal tape) may be a solution that your doctor has recommended. The ‘tape’ is a ribbon of mesh that slots underneath your urethra to permanently support it in the way your muscles once did. No more need for sanitary pads and liners!

The procedure needs to be carried out while you’re under general anesthetic, but it is a simple insertion that means you should be in and out of hospital within a few hours.

How will I feel afterwards?

So long as everything has gone to plan, you’ll be able to go home on the same day as your surgery. While you might feel woozy and perhaps nauseas thanks to the anesthetic, you should be back to normal within a day or two and back to your regular activities quickly. Your doctor will probably advise you to avoid sex and heavy lifting for four to six weeks while the area heals.

Even minimally-invasive procedures such as this involve risks and the biggest one in this case is damage to the bladder or surrounding organs.  

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