You may think adult incontinence is for the elderly, but actress Kate Winslet recently revealed on the The Graham Norton Show that she suffers from the condition. (Getty Images)
“I can’t jump on trampolines anymore, I wet myself,” Winslet, 40, said on the show. “It’s bloody awful, especially if you’re wearing a skirt.”
The mother of three blames childbirth for her incontinence. “When you’ve had a few children you know, it’s just what happens,” she says. “It’s amazing, two sneezes, I’m fine. Three, it’s game over.”
But Winslet isn’t alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “millions” of women suffer from urinary incontinence, a condition that occurs when urine leaks out of the bladder before you can get to the bathroom.
It’s twice as common in women than men and is usually caused by problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or pass urine.
Melissa Goist, MD, an ob/gyn at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health that about one-third of all adult women have some type of pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), including incontinence, and 50 percent of these are contributed to pregnancy and childbirth.
However, Goist says, even more women may suffer from the condition since many don’t discuss it out of embarrassment.
Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Health that urinary incontinence can affect people of all ages, but the rates increase with age. “Some studies show that the prevalence of urinary incontinence in women peaks in midlife, between the ages of 45 and 55 years,” she says.
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that childbirth (along with pregnancy and menopause) is a major cause of urinary incontinence because labor and vaginal birth can weaken pelvic floor muscles and damage nerves that control the bladder.
Luckily, urinary incontinence usually gets better a few weeks after childbirth. “The nerves and muscles typically may heal over time, as well as an increase in synthesis of collagen and elastin that helps to restore some of the strength in the pelvic floor,” says Goist. (The collagen and elastin synthesis is dampened during pregnancy in order to allow for the vagina to accommodate the size of the fetus, she explains.)
It’s possible to lower the odds a woman will experience urinary incontinence by doing regular pelvic muscle exercises before they even become pregnant and during pregnancy. “Doing Kegel exercises can help for women of all ages by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles,” Philip Buffington, MD, chief medical officer at Cincinnati’s The Urology Group, tells Yahoo Health.
Already suffer from the condition? Sometimes it won’t go away over time and women may need to work to improve their incontinence, urologist David Kaufman, M.D., of New York’s Central Park Urology, tells Yahoo Health. That typically means working to improve muscle tone down there, usually with physical therapy that involves Kegel exercises.
But Goist points out that urinary incontinence may also be a genetic issue and might not be easily corrected by exercises. “Genetics are not changeable,” she says. “Sometimes there are easy solutions and other times surgical correction may be the only option.”
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