The cause of female incontinence is most often due to a failure of either the pelvic floor muscles or the bladder muscle. The pelvic floor muscles may be stretched in childbirth or because of weight gain. The bladder muscle may fail because of age or as a symptom of another illness. In some instances, it may be a problem that accompanies a condition such as a urinary tract infection and goes away as the condition resolves itself. When some action, such as coughing, laughing, or jogging, puts additional pressure on the bladder, many women experience female incontinence, which is a leakage or unintended release of urine.
There are two common types of female incontinence. Stress incontinence is that which is caused by the bladder pushing on the vagina because weakened pelvic floor muscles aren’t supporting the bladder properly. The pressure on the vagina keeps muscles that close the urethra from tightening as much as usual. This type of incontinence occurs as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause and usually involves a small amount of urine leakage.
During pregnancy, as the fetus grows, pressure increases on the bladder muscle, often causing a leakage of urine. The pelvic floor muscles may be weakened because of stretching during childbirth, making it difficult for the muscles that close the urethra to tighten enough to stop urine leakage. A decrease in the production of estrogen at the time of menopause can cause tissues in the urethra to become thinner and nerves in the bladder to become more sensitive, leading to urine leakage.
The other common type of female incontinence is urge incontinence, sometimes called an overactive bladder. This occurs because of involuntary contractions of the bladder muscles. These involuntary contractions may occur as the muscles age or because of other conditions such as a stroke, kidney stones, or certain types of tumors. With urge incontinence, there is larger leakage of urine most of the time than that which would be seen with stress incontinence.
Certain exercises may be suggested as part of treatment for female incontinence. Kegel exercises are often used to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. In Kegel exercises, the muscles that are used to stop urine flow are flexed in several repetitions two or three times each day. Bladder training, to extend the time between needing to urinate, may be recommended for treating urge incontinence. Other treatments may include medications and surgery.