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Urge, Stress, and Postpartum Incontinence | Differences and Causes

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Urination is a complex process requiring each urinary function to cooperate. All nerves, muscles, and organs must align at precisely the right time for bladder retention or release to work properly. Complications with this process can lead to urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is the inability to control urinary function, which results in urine leakage.

There are two primary types of urinary incontinence: stress and urge. The result of both is the same—the leaking of urine at the worst possible times—but how they get there is a little different. We'll discuss the differences, causes, and treatments of stress incontinence vs. urge incontinence below.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence occurs when pressure is placed on the bladder, causing urine to leak with little resistance. Regarding stress incontinence vs. urge incontinence, stress is the most common type.

Some common triggers for stress incontinence are:

  • Standing up

  • Bending over

  • Coughing

  • Sneezing

  • Laughing

  • Heavy lifting

  • Sexual activity

Advanced triggers are:

  • Chronic cough

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

These situations don't always guarantee an "event," but they are more likely to trigger once the bladder is full.

The primary cause of stress incontinence is weakened muscles around the urinary system. Women often develop stress incontinence during pregnancy and following childbirth.

Treatments for stress incontinence include:

  • Diet and lifestyle changes

  • Medications

  • Pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) and pelvic floor electrical stimulaton

  • Pessaries

  • Surgery

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is the sudden need to expel liquids from the bladder intensely. It is often so intense that making it to the restroom is not an option. The intense feeling may strike at any time of the day, including while sleeping, and the amount of leakage is likely to soak through clothing. Not only can this be embarrassing for many people, but it can leave you feeling gross too.

An overactive bladder is the cause of urge incontinence. Almost half of those who have an overactive bladder will experience some form of urge incontinence. Treatment options for urge incontinence will vary based on the cause. Some are manageable from home using medications or with dietary and lifestyle changes.

Other treatments include:

Postpartum Incontinence

Postpartum incontinence is typically urinary incontinence either during pregnancy or after childbirth. The most common postpartum urinary incontinence is stress incontinence. For women, incontinence is very common following delivery. In some cases, fecal incontinence can occur too.

Fecal incontinence is the leaking of stool from the anus. Its causes are a significant tear in the anus or a developed fistula from the vagina to the anus. Fecal incontinence is likely to require surgery, but it may depend on the severity.

Postpartum incontinence causes may include several factors, including genetics. Women who deliver vaginally are more prone to urinary incontinence than those who opt for a cesarean.

Contributing factors include:

  • Obesity

  • Incontinence before or during pregnancy

  • Prior pregnancy

  • Multifetal gestation (i.e. twins, triplets)

  • Forceps or vacuum delivery

Injury during delivery may also be a factor in the development of incontinence. Pregnancy puts strain on the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. These muscles are weakened during pregnancy and delivery, possibly resulting in urinary incontinence.

Urinary Incontinence Prevention During Pregnancy

Women can help safeguard themselves from urinary incontinence by protecting the pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy. Visiting a physical therapist specializing in Kegel exercises, discussing options with your doctor, avoiding high-impact activities that stress your abdominals, and practicing prenatal yoga are great ways to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

Other treatments for postpartum urinary incontinence include:

  • Weight control

  • Light exercise and pelvic floor electrical stimulation

  • Medications

  • Nerve stimulation

  • Surgery

Effects of Aging on Incontinence

When it comes to stress incontinence vs. urge incontinence, aging plays a more significant factor in the latter. Younger women who are pregnant or postpartum are more likely to experience stress incontinence. Older women going through menopause are more likely to face urge incontinence.

However, age itself does not play a fundamental role in the development of incontinence. Incontinence affects people of all ages. A medical issue causes incontinence, whereas aging tends to cause medical problems.

Telltale Signs You Might Have Incontinence

You may have noticed a pattern in your urinary function that has you contemplating whether or not you have urinary incontinence. Although you may have a good idea, only a doctor can diagnose incontinence. If you think you may have this condition, seek help and advice from a healthcare provider to determine the most accurate results.

Mixed Incontinence

Knowledge of the different kinds of incontinence is key to determining the causes and treatments. Understanding the underlying causes, differences, and treatments can help lead to the defense against incontinence overall.

Women are more likely to face both stress and urge incontinence in their lives than men. They are also more likely to experience both types simultaneously, known as mixed incontinence.

In some cases, stress and urge incontinence overlap, often where one set of symptoms are more severe.

Protect Yourself Against Incontinence

Employing lifestyle changes at an early age can help in the fight against urinary incontinence.

A few changes you can make now are:

  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake

  • Maintaining a healthy diet and weight through exercise

  • Abstaining from smoking

For older women (and men) suffering from this troublesome condition, your first solution is to speak with your doctor. They can lay out all of the treatment options at your disposal, including:

  • Medications

  • Behavioral therapy

  • Electrical stimulation such as Dr. Jane's ITS

  • Surgery (last resort)

Picking Up The Pieces

Urinary incontinence can have adverse effects on your mental health as well as your physical. Individuals with incontinence sometimes avoid friends and activities because of uncertainty and embarrassment. It could lead to isolation, depression, and reduced quality of life, including a decrease in confidence and self-esteem.

Speak to a doctor or physical therapist if incontinence interferes with your day-to-day activities. You can assist the doctor or physical therapist with a quick solution by tracking and discussing any episodes you may have experienced. These can help your doctor determine which urinary incontinence—stress, urge, or both—you may be experiencing.

With therapy and guidance, many people who experience urinary incontinence can regain bladder control before long. Why delay? Search for the best urinary incontinence treatments for you today.

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