Urinary incontinence is a common symptom of menopause. WUKA experts discuss how menopause and incontinence are linked and how to manage the condition.
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is where urine leaks from the bladder, usually when you laugh, cough or sneeze. There are varying degrees of incontinence- in some cases, the leaks can be very minor- a few dribbles or trickles when you laugh, for example- but in others it can be a very sudden and urgent need to run to the loo, perhaps being unable to hold in the flow before you get there.
There’s no two ways about it- incontinence can be embarrassing. Luckily though, it’s not just something you have to put up with- for many, it’s also easily remedied.
So what are the different types of urinary incontinence you might experience?
Stress incontinence occurs when the bladder is under pressure and is unable to hold urine in. This results in leaks when you laugh, cough, sneeze or take part in exercise such as running or jumping.
Stress incontinence is the most common type for women who are going through perimenopause or who have reached menopause. Basically, its due to the ageing process, and lower levels of oestrogen in the body. The pelvic floor muscles become weaker, and aren’t able to control the bladder as well as they used to. It’s completely normal and very common.
Urge incontinence is where you feel a sudden and urgent need to use the loo, and often urine leaks out before you can get there. You might also feel like you constantly need the loo, but when you go, not much comes out. This is also sometimes referred to as an ‘overactive bladder’ and it just means that the bladder muscles aren’t working as they should- either they’re squeezing incorrectly, or they’re constantly tense, unable to relax.
Again, it’s thought that the natural effects of ageing and menopause are to blame here.
If you don’t manage to empty your bladder fully when you use the loo, there’s a chance that overflow incontinence could become a problem. This is where urine dribbles out continuously, and you might also experience needing to urinate at night, a weak urine flow and a more frequent inability to either start a wee, or maintain it. And it can become a vicious circle- because if you don’t empty your bladder properly, you can make the problem worse.
A good tip that one of our followers shared recently: “raise your arms in the air when you do a wee- for some reason this really helps to empty the bladder!” You can also try leaning forward to help too.
Symptoms of incontinence
So how do you know if you have urinary incontinence? The main symptoms include:
- Leaking pee when you laugh, cough, sneeze or exercise.
- Leaking pee on the way to the loo
- Needing to pee one or more times through the night
- Suffering with recurrent UTIs
If you are experiencing these symptoms, know that you’re not alone. This NHS article by Angie Rantell, Lead Nurse Urogynaecology/ Nurse Cystoscopist at Kind’s College Hospital reports that almost 70% of women in the UK experience urinary incontinence due to menopause.
This is backed up by this study carried out by scientists in 2019, who found that over half of menopausal women globally were affected by urinary incontinence, more so than diabetes, hypertension or depression.
But again, we stress that just because it’s common, that does’t mean you have to just put up with it. In fact, this same study reported that 80% of patients find physical therapy beneficial for urinary incontinence.
How does menopause cause incontinence?
Urinary incontinence affects between 3 and 6 million people in the UK, and is more commonly experienced by women. It’s usually put down to childbirth or ageing- but how exactly does the menopause affect incontinence?
Weakened pelvic floor muscles
A major cause of incontinence is a weak pelvic floor. The muscles in the pelvic floor are responsible for holding up the pelvic organs, including the bladder. They’re also responsible for ensuring the bladder opens and closes properly when you urinate. You can feel them at work if you try to hold the stream of pee when you use the loo.
During perimenopause, the pelvic floor muscles can become weaker, thanks to hormone shifts in part, but also due to the natural ageing process.
Loss of elasticity in the bladder
Just as the pelvic floor muscles become weaker, so too do the bladder muscles. This can result in incontinence, as the bladder isn’t able to hold control the flow of urine as well as before.
Vaginal dryness is a common symptom that occurs during perimenopause, and it happens when levels of oestrogen are very low. Vaginal dryness can lead to an increase in urinary tract infections, and urinary incontinence.
Excessive weight gain can place pressure on the pelvic floor and bladder muscles, and make it harder for them to perform as they should. Being overweight is a common cause of urinary incontinence- and weight gain is common during menopause too, thanks to fluctuating hormones- so adopting a healthy lifestyle is good idea to keep weight gain in check.
How to manage incontinence
There are loads of easy remedies to manage incontinence, both physical and practical. We keep saying it, but incontinence doesn’t need to be something you suffer with in silence, or indeed suffer with at all. Speak to your GP if you’re concerned, so that you can discuss the different ways to manage the condition.
The following are great recommendations to manage urinary incontinence:
Pelvic floor exercises
We cannot stress this enough! Everyone should be doing pelvic floor exercises on the regular, whether male or female. It is so, so important to keep these muscles strong and healthy so that when the time comes and you do start to experience perimenopause symptoms, you’re ahead of the game and able to keep incontinence at bay.
Pelvic floor exercises are easy to do, and most of the time nobody will know you’re doing them, nor you do need any specific equipment either.
It’s never too late to make some positive lifestyle changes, so if you know there are things you can adapt, do it. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Cut down on alcohol, processed foods, and foods high in sugar and salt. Exercise regularly too, to help keep your weight stable.
Reusable incontinence pants
If you suffer with urinary incontinence, the most practical tip we can give you: reusable incontinence pants- namely, our Drytech™ incontinence pants!
Made to absorb light leaks and dribbles, these pants are soft and super comfy, helping to keep you dry and odour free. We use Polygiene OdourCrunch™ technology and Polygiene StayFresh™ technology so you don't need to worry about odour or feeling 'wet'- these pants will keep you fresh and comfy.
Another bonus of our new Drytech™ pants? They're made with our innovative stretch technology, stretching up to four sizes in just one pair.
Available in both midi brief and high waist style, these pants come in just two sizes- XS- L and XL- 4XL- and in three colour ways- black, light nude and coral- you can wear a pair and keep a couple handy. Wear them like your normal pants, don’t be afraid of leaks when they occur, and rest assured that we’ve got your back
The bottom line on menopause and incontinence
Lots of women experience incontinence when they go through perimenopause, but there are easy ways to manage the condition. Make sure you exercise regularly, never skip pelvic floor day (every day!) and maintain a healthy weight.
Plus, don’t forget that our reusable incontinence pants are your friend. There for every leak and dribble, sneezy flows and giggling trickles.
How can I stop menopause incontinence?
The best thing you can do to manage urinary incontinence during menopause is to exercise your pelvic floor muscles regularly. This will keep them strong. It’s also a good idea to maintain a healthy lifestyle- but remember that during menopause, the bladder muscles also weaken naturally due to ageing and also due to lower levels of oestrogen. So make an appointment with your GP to chat through other options if you need them.
How does menopause affect incontinence?
As we age, our muscles naturally begin to weaken and this can be a major cause of urinary incontinence. For women experiencing perimenopause symptoms, lower levels of oestrogen can also be a major cause of incontinence too.
Speak to your GP about how you can manage incontinence.