This article was medically fact-checked by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Shree Datta.
Many of us have been there; carelessly laughing with friends, when ‘oops!’…a little leak. We’ve had to excuse ourselves from the conversation and use our bag as a cover as we try to stealthily make our way to the bathroom. While this has happened to a lot of women at some point, regular leaks can often be the sign of something more serious.
What Could Be Causing Leaks?
Short-term leaks could be caused by a urinary tract infection, certain medications, or even constipation. If you’ve found this happening regularly over time, then you might have something called stress incontinence. This might sound a little scary, but it’s the official term for the leaks of urine after coughing, sneezing, laughing, or even lifting something heavy.
What Is Stress Incontinence?
Stress incontinence is one of the four main types of urinary incontinence in women. It usually occurs when our pelvic floor muscles are weakened. When these muscles are not as strong as they should be, they lose their ability to control the sphincter muscles. Usually, we consciously relax these muscles only when we use the toilet. When you have a weakened pelvic floor and you cough, for example, pressure is created in the abdomen that pushes down on the bladder and the pelvic floor muscles aren’t strong enough to hold in the urine. That’s what causes leaks.
Women usually experience their first leaks during pregnancy or after childbirth, when the pelvic floor muscles are stretched and weakened. It can also start later in life due to changes in the body’s hormones, especially when we go through menopause, which leads the pelvic muscles to weaken.
What Can I Do If I Think I Have Urinary Incontinence?
While leaks can be embarrassing, and might be difficult to talk about, you should know that you are not the only one going through this. Millions of women worldwide have bladder leakage problems, but many don’t seek help. However, the good news is that stress incontinence can be effectively treated, often without surgery or medications. The important thing is to act early and talk to your doctor as soon as you notice leaks.
What Treatments Are There?
For short-term incontinence due to constipation or medication issues, for example, your doctor will help you to solve the underlying issue.
Managing weight through healthy lifestyle changes can help relieve excessive pressure that can damage the pelvic floor.
A chronic cough, especially from a smoking habit, can also put a strain on the pelvic floor. Quitting smoking, or treating the cough can help prevent leaks and future damage.
For more extreme cases, your doctor may recommend surgery.
How Can Kegels Help?
If your leaks are diagnosed as stress incontinence due to a weakened pelvic floor, your doctor’s first recommendation will probably be to start pelvic floor exercises called Kegel exercises.
Kegels are simple contract-and-release exercises that help to build the strength of the pelvic floor muscles. When the muscles are strong, we have control of when our bodies release urine. Using a smart Kegel exerciser can help build strength more effectively and quickly. Your doctor will be able to instruct you on the correct Kegel technique, and offer advice on choosing an exerciser. To learn more about Kegel exercises, you can read our Beginners Guide to Kegels. They’re easy to do, low risk, and so effective that they’re the number one doctor recommended solution for mild urinary incontinence.
For extra support, your doctor may recommend seeing a women’s health physiotherapist who can give you proper exercises to keep your situation stable, and prevent it from getting worse.
If you are reading this and you have leaks, now is the time to do something about it! You are not alone, and no one should have to live with leaks – they can be solved. Leaks are nothing to be embarrassed about and stopping them is often very simple, once you decide to take action.
Find Out How Kegels Can Help These Women Conquer Their Leaking Fears
Facts checked by:
Dr. Shree Datta
Dr. Shree Datta is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in London, specialising in women’s health including all menstrual problems such as fibroids and endometriosis. Dr. Shree is a keen advocate for patient choice, having written numerous articles and books to promote patient and clinician information. Her vision resonates with INTIMINA, with the common goals of demystifying periods and delivering the best possible care to her patients
A collective group of “lady experts” at Intimina who love sharing our personal experiences, even when they are a little too personal. We believe it’s time to start breaking down the taboos around menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, and start owning our female health.