Women’s life stages and incontinence

Incontinence can occur at any age, but it’s not an issue many are willing to discuss.

Women’s life stages and incontinence

Incontinence can occur at any age, but it’s not an issue many are willing to discuss. Why not discover the causes incontinence at different life stages, then pass it on to your girlfriends?

Younger women
Up to one in four Australians over the age of 15 experience bladder or bowel control problems. Women who are particularly at risk include those who are overweight, constipated, regularly lift heavy objects, smoke or have respiratory problems such as asthma or hay fever, or have had abdominal or gynaecological surgery. Other medical conditions such as cystitis and diabetes may also affect continence.

Up to 65% of women are affected by urinary incontinence during pregnancy. Women have elevated levels of the hormone relaxin, which softens the body’s tissues to allow expansion as the baby grows and for the pelvic floor to stretch during birth. The combined effect of relaxin, and the pressure of the baby weight, make it harder for the muscles to hold the pelvic floor organs in their correct position and can result in stress incontinence.

This may result from the combined effect of pregnancy hormones and the pressure that affects the pelvic floor muscles by coughing, laughing, lifting or straining.

Women who have had a natural or a caesarean birth are equally as likely to experience incontinence due to the pressure of the baby on the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy. Also, the trauma of childbirth can cause tearing or overstretching of muscles and swelling or nerve damage that may result in incontinence. Due to post-birth pain in the perineal area, women may strain to empty the bowel, which can further weaken the pelvic floor muscles.

The body may take up to six months to recover from childbirth. Breastfeeding mothers may also have weaker pelvic floor muscles due to the continuing presence of relaxin and decreased levels of oestrogen. Some women may restrict their fluid intake for fear of incontinence which can worsen the problem as it has the effect of concentrating urine and irritating the bladder.

Menopause and the older years
The female hormone oestrogen, which decreases during menopause, has an important role in the urinary system. It helps to maintain the thickness of the lining of the tube (urethra) that runs from the bladder to outside of the body. It keeps the urethra sealed after passing urine (much like a washer seals water from leaking in a tap). As a result of this loss of oestrogen, some women experience stress incontinence during menopause.

As we age, the bladder becomes less elastic and therefore has more difficulty in stretching and can cause an ‘overactive’ bladder. An overactive bladder may result in the need to pass urine more frequently. Combined with weaker pelvic floor muscles, this makes it much more difficult to hold on or to put off going to the toilet to pass urine.

What you can do
Pelvic floor exercises are an effective way to maintain pelvic floor fitness. Good pelvic floor muscle tone assists women to maintain bladder and bowel control throughout pregnancy and helps to reduce the risk of developing a prolapse during or after pregnancy.

However, for some women with severe weakness of the pelvic floor muscles, other approaches are required to manage the condition. A referral to a pelvic floor physiotherapist or incontinent nurse can provide more specialised advice. Also, vaginal oestrogen cream or an oestrogen pessary is sometimes prescribed to help post-menopausal women.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)


    To make a comment, please register or login
    7th Jul 2014
    Another problem is the Bloody Drugs the GP gives you for Blood Pressure. Told to me by me GP when I complained.
    Young Simmo
    10th Jul 2014
    OK I am a bloke but have an interest in this subject and am looking forward to some helpful tips. My wife (74 Years) has had problems in this area for about 30 or so years . She had a support mesh device put in about 15 years ago but has slowly gotten worse and worse. I give her all the help and support I can including putting he nickers on as her severe back problems stop her from reaching down to her feet. I expect there must be a lot of other couples in a similar position and feel really sorry for single ladies who have to battle on. Anyway, any tips and suggestions are more than welcome.
    10th Jul 2014
    Moral support, Young Simmo, which you are doing.
    10th Jul 2014
    Thankyou Unicorn... I have finally found why it started with me once I was placed on Blood Pressure tablets... wonder if all BP tablets cause the incontinence??
    10th Jul 2014
    I thought it was funny that the next article was the leek and potato soup!
    10th Jul 2014
    Yes, leek and potato soup should help. :)
    10th Jul 2014
    Seriously, my darling husband suffered greatly with incontinence after radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer. He hated the incontinence more than anything else. People in this situation need alot of encouragement and moral support. When we used to go shopping for pads I'd say "See, these pads are for lots of people, not just for you, so don't worry so much,
    lots of people are incontinent".
    10th Jul 2014
    My dearly departed husband suffered with urinary incontinence for many years mainly due to prostate cancer. He was eventually fitted with a catheter which gave him the freedom to go out more. He had it fitted and taped to his thigh with the bag on the end. Under long trousers it was not detectable. He tried the pads in his undies but it used to get too wet.
    10th Jul 2014
    My problem is hereditary. The muscles inside the bladder wall over-react to moisture causing urgency incontinance and there is nothing that can be done to correct it. I just had to learn to live with it as do my daughters also.

    11th Jul 2014
    Incontinence can be ok for men...the old leg bag works a treat...no waiting in lines at shopping centers or stations...walk past whistling... just open the tap and drain.....anywhere really. At night just put the drain tube through a hole you have drilled in your bedroom floor, so it runs out under the house...simple
    11th Jul 2014
    As far as I know there is no difference whatever b.p.tab you ARE ON AS MY G,P, did not hesitate to advise me where usually she as at odds with blaming the drugs.
    11th Jul 2014
    I never had any problems until I was put on B.P. tabs and as soon as I started on them I became incontinemt.
    11th Jul 2014
    I have had 'urgency' and weak pelvic floor muscles for about 30 years. I am 65. I had to have several operations at age 43 which started this problem off. I take medication Vesicare, or Solifenacin Succinate. It helps a lot with the urgency. I feel quite 'alone' with my problem as I don't know anyone else who has it as badly as me. Good to talk about it here. Coffee is the worst thing....I can actually wet my pants, which is awfully embarrassing. I have discovered over the years that caffeine, citrus, and ginger are the worst offenders. Check herbal teas as green tea has caffeine, as does chocolate in any form. Also any citrus type herbal teas irritate my bladder. Caffeine, just one drink, can upset my bladder for several hours.
    Young Simmo
    11th Jul 2014
    Here is a tip for any ladies that may not know. My wife uses special thick padded nickers called TENA Pants which come in packets of 12 from our local Amcal Chemist shop. Not cheap at $23.00 per packet, and she averages about a packet per week.
    However we are registered with the Silver Chain who arrange a payment of $545.00 per year which has just been deposited in our bank account for the 2nd year running.
    I think the Silver Chain work through the Continence Foundation of Australia.
    If that helps anybody, you are welcome.
    12th Jul 2014
    Well thank you for the info Young Simmo, I will follow that up!
    13th Jul 2014
    Thanks Youbg Simmo I too will chase that up also as I tried the incontinence mob & they okayed it for somewhere near thee amount you mentioned but all I got was one payment of $200 odd. My nurse from my care group is now looking into it.
    Young Simmo
    13th Jul 2014
    Yeh good Unicorn, they pay the money in July, and if you did the start up till around March or April, you probably only got the proportion to get you to the end of that year, We received our money around about Monday just past. If you haven't got it in the next week or so I would certainly give them a needle.
    Good Luck.....Simmo.
    14th Jul 2014
    Thanks Simmo , I am sure something has gone wrong probably time. I never was lucky.

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