Urinary incontinence is a widespread problem. Sufferers range from young yummy mummies to 40 percent of women over 40, according to a U.K. urinary study carried out in 2000 by the Medical Research Council.
And stress incontinence is the most common form of urinary incontinence. It is prompted by a physical movement or activity that puts pressure — stress — on your bladder. Stress incontinence is not related to psychological stress. Stress incontinence is much more common in women than in men.
The Incontinence Foundation confirms that there are six million weak bladders in the U.K. and one in three women leak when they laugh, cough, sneeze or lift heavy objects. In fact, the statistics are probably much higher, as many people, not surprisingly, won't admit they have a problem.
Stress incontinence is partly due to weakness of the pelvic-floor muscles (PFM). These support the pelvic organs, bladder, uterus and rectum, and there is a high chance of developing vagina prolapse, when any or all could start to down, because the muscles become too weak. People can suffer for years, due to embarrassment or assuming they have to live with it.
It's interesting to note that while women's awareness of body care during the ante-natal period can verge on the obsessive, postnatally, it's a different story, where taking care of your body takes a low priority compared to embracing breastfeeding and a new routine.
It's a shame that more women don't seek help, because there are treatments out there, writes Jacqueline Brown, writing in the Independent UK. The first stop should be PFM physiotherapy, which brings about improvement in 85 percent of women, she says.
These days, a higher priority is given to this area of women's health, confirms Katie Jeitz, senior physiotherapist at the Whittington Hospital in London. "Pelvic-floor health is promoted from early pregnancy. On discharge, women are given a health pack and we run one-to-one appointments and classes in specific cases. Often, it's five or 10 years later, when incontinence starts to interfere with lifestyle, that women seek help. A GP can refer women to physiotherapy, and the earlier the better. Women still don't know enough about their pelvic floors. We have to get over the taboo, talk about it with our girlfriends"
Katie Jeitz estimates that around 20-30 percent of her cases are young women, rising to 50 percent of women approaching or in menopause.
Brown wove her pelvic floor exercises into her daily routine, from sitting at traffic lights in the car to standing in supermarket queues. And there's an added bonus to achieving a toned PF with increased sensation: the sexual plus that comes with it.
There is also an operation to insert a TVT (tension-free vaginal tape). This improves the bladder neck angle, one of the things women need for continence.
The TVT was developed in Scandinavia. The operation involves making a small cut above the vagina and threading in a mesh underneath to support the urethra. The needle's exit and entry is via the lower abdomen.
For Brown the operation has been a total success. "one year later I'm still drip-free and feel like I have a new lease of life. I'm unaware of the tape and there are no visible scars, but what everyone has noticed is my new-found confidence. My only regret is not finding help sooner, and I urge any woman who feels the slightest pelvic weakness to stop suffering in silence, get control and get strong."
Even after the TVT, it's important to exercise, and for most women, exercise is the key to total pelvic success. Once you're toned down there, you'll find it easy to squeeze-hold at any time of the day. Better still, step your pelvic strength up a level with Pilates, and your body will feel and look better both inside and out.
Pilates is a complete exercise method developed by its founder Joseph Pilates over the course of a lifetime dedicated to improving physical and mental health.
Pilates focuses on building your body's core strength and improving your posture through a series of low repetition low impact stretching and conditioning exercises.
Tighten up your muscles
Whether you suffer or not, it's vital to keep your bladder and pelvic-floor muscles strong and healthy. If you think you have a problem, have it checked immediately.
• Avoid lifting heavy objects, which can cause strain.
• To test your tone, do your own biofeedback: put two clean fingers into your vagina and see how much you can squeeze against them. Use a mirror to check if your vagina closes and perineum lifts away from the pelvis when you squeeze.
• Identify your pelvic-floor muscles by tightening the muscles around your vagina and anus as though you were trying to stop yourself passing water and wind at the same time.
• Draw the muscles upwards and inwards, while breathing normally, and without tensing your stomach or thigh muscles. Practice holding the muscles tight for 10 seconds, though you might not be able to do this right away.
• You can also practice fast contractions, holding the muscles for one second, with one second's rest in between.
• Aim to do one set of 10 fast, and one set of slow contractions, six times each day. Don't give up if you don't notice a difference right away -- this may take up to three months, but you'll see a change eventually.
• Make it a habit to draw in your lower abdomen as often as you can to improve pelvic-muscle endurance.
• Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to prevent constipation, and don't overstrain when on the loo.