Women's Health: Understanding Urinary Incontinence

Posted on: 15 January 2020


Urinary incontinence is far more prevalent in women than men due to the anatomical design of the female urinary tract and its proximity to the pelvic floor, which can weaken and become damaged due to age or childbirth. Urinary incontinence can be mild and involve small amounts of urine leaking when sneezing or carrying out a strenuous activity, or it can be severe and require the sufferer to wear incontinence pads at all times to protect their clothes. This condition can have a negative impact on your quality of life and self-confidence, but there are a number of treatment options available that improve the condition for many patients. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for urinary incontinence in women:


The symptoms associated with urinary incontinence, aside from urine leaking from the bladder, will vary depending on the cause of the problem. Even if you're only experiencing leaks occasionally if you have other related symptoms, you should see a urologist as incontinence can worsen quickly and it's more difficult to treat as it worsens.  

In women whose incontinence is due to pelvic floor damage or childbirth, it's not uncommon to experience lower abdominal pain and pressure in the pelvic region due to the bladder lacking support. If your incontinence is due to a neurological condition, such as Alzheimer's, you may find in addition to leaks, that your bladder doesn't actually fully empty or you can't tell if it's empty. This can lead to urinary tract infections, which may make it painful to urinate and can cause a mild fever. If you have a blockage somewhere in your urinary tract, you may alternate between leaks and being unable to pass urine, which will leave you with a feeling of fullness and abdominal pain.

Diagnosis And Treatment

There are a number of diagnostic tests your urologist can use to determine the severity and cause of urinary incontinence. A urine sample can be checked for white blood cells, which are indicative of an infection, while an ultrasound can show if there are any structural abnormalities causing the issue. You may also have a cystoscopy, which involves having a thin tube with a camera on the end of it inserted through your urethra. This allows your doctor to assess bladder and urinary tract structure and health and is useful when a structural change, such as damage to the pelvic floor, is suspected as the cause of your incontinence.

Treatment for urinary incontinence varies depending on cause and severity. You may be given medication to relax the bladder muscles if you have an overactive bladder, or oestrogen may be prescribed to help tighten pelvic floor muscles. Botox can also be injected internally to strengthen the pelvic floor area, and a nerve stimulation device that emits electrical currents can be placed under the skin on your lower abdomen to improve nerve control in your bladder. 

In severe cases of urinary incontinence when there's a structural issue at the root of the condition, you may require surgery to hold the bladder in its correct position, such as having a mesh inserted along the pelvic floor to strengthen the area and prevent a bladder prolapse.

If you're concerned about incontinence, schedule an appointment with a urologist as soon as possible. It's not uncommon for women to feel embarrassed about experiencing this condition, but urologists deal with this issue frequently. If it would help you feel more comfortable, you can ask to see a female urologist.