The Definition of Incontinence, plus the Best Treatment for Each Type

Would you pass the trampoline test?

When asked if they have incontinence, many women say, “No, I just leak when I sneeze, laugh, or exercise.” However, these women DO have urinary incontinence. The definition of incontinence is simply the lack of control over urination. Bladder incontinence is a common condition, affecting 1 in 3 women over 30 years old, and 1 in 2 women over the age of 50. Symptoms often begin after childbirth, when the pelvic floor is stretched or damaged. Left untreated, incontinence can worsen, affecting many areas of a woman’s life. Research shows that women who have incontinence are more likely to struggle with mental health, sexual health, and social issues.

definition of incontinence

Types of incontinence

Now that you know the basic definition of incontinence, let’s take a look at the types of incontinence that affect women.

Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is urine leakage with increased abdominal pressure. This pressure pushes down on pelvic floor muscles, applying stress to muscles that are too weak to keep the bladder closed. The pelvic floor consists of layered muscles that act like a hammock to support your bladder, vagina, and rectum. Sneezing, coughing, or exercise can trigger this increase in abdominal pressure, and 82% of women with incontinence have some degree of stress incontinence. Conservative treatments focus on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.

Urge urinary incontinence (UUI) is a sudden and strong desire to urinate, accompanied by bladder leakage. If you can get to the toilet before leaking, the condition is called “overactive bladder.” The cause of UUI is complex and addresses how the nervous system controls the bladder. Treatment often involves medication or stimulation to calm the bladder. Learn more about UUI and a listing of some treatment options.

Mixed incontinence (MI) describes when a woman has both stress and urge incontinence symptoms.

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder literally overflows because it’s full but no message is sent to the brain to tell the women to urinate. In some cases, the bladder also has difficultly fully emptying. There are various causes that require a range of medical treatments.

Nocturia is incontinence at night and often requires waking up multiple times, interrupting sleep. Learn more here.

definition of incontinence

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How severe are your stress incontinence symptoms?

If you’ve researched the definition of incontinence and the different types, you’ve probably determined you have SUI (including mixed incontinence), which is the most common type of incontinence. SUI usually develops when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened or stretched, so treatment focuses on strengthening the pelvic floor. SUI symptoms are categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. Regardless of the severity, you should consider treatment together with a healthcare professional. Early intervention increases the success of treatment.

Mild. You experience occasional light leakage with vigorous exercise, coughing, laughing, or sneezing. It’s usually a surprise when it happens, but you may wear an absorbent pad “just in case.”

Moderate. Your bladder leakage ranges from a few times a week to every day. You most likely wear an absorbent pad.

Severe. You leak multiple times per day, sometimes from simple movements, such as standing up, walking, or bending over. You probably use multiple pads per day. In addition to incontinence, you may have notable pelvic organ prolapse (i.e., when pelvic organs drop into or below the vagina).

Stress incontinence treatments

Mild stress incontinence

  • Behavior modification. Changing your behavior involves altering your daily routine, including increasing your toilet visits and modifying when and how much fluid you drink. This method doesn’t solve any underlying problems, so your condition may worsen.
  • Pelvic floor muscle training. Also known as Kegel exercises, this training strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, which in turn decreases bladder leakage. Kegels work well if performed correctly and consistently, however, studies show that women struggle to do them effectively.
  • Biofeedback. This treatment is used to sense whether a woman is performing Kegels properly. The treatment requires the insertion of a vaginal probe. Studies show that biofeedback increases success with muscle training, but it is invasive.
  • Weighted Kegel balls. These devices are placed in the vagina and provide additional resistance when performing muscle training. Kegel balls are less convenient than basic Kegel exercises, plus there’s a risk of infection.
  • Surface stimulationELITONE allows women to tone the pelvic floor with muscle stimulation. Unlike many other treatment options, ELITONE doesn’t require vaginal insertion and can be used while going about everyday activities.

Moderate incontinence

  • Surface stimulation (see above)
  • Weighted Kegel balls (see above)
  • Vaginal stimulation. A device is inserted vaginally to deliver muscle stimulation to the pelvic floor muscles. Treatment occurs over multiple weeks. Many women don’t tolerate the invasive nature of this treatment.
  • Pessaries. These removable devices are placed in the vagina and press against the urethra, squeezing it closed to prevent leakage. This treatment can be a good alternative to surgery, but it doesn’t address the underlying cause. Side effects include infection and odor.

Severe stress incontinence

Surgery is an invasive option that should be a last resort. The most common surgery is a sling procedure where the surgeon tacks the ends of a sling (usually mesh or tape) to other tissues, and the sling physically lifts the bladder neck. Recently, there have been reports of severe complications with the products used in incontinence surgeries.

No more pads after ELITONE

When NOT to treat incontinence

Treating incontinence early on means you’ll have more success treating those annoying bladder leaks. However, there are situations where you might want to think twice about over-the-counter incontinence solutions.

  • Type of incontinence. When your incontinence doesn’t fit the defined stress or urge incontinence described above, you should make an appointment with a medical professional. Most over-the-counter treatments are designed for stress and urge incontinence only, so seek help with a doctor when treating other types of incontinence.
  • Underlying conditions. When your stress incontinence is not from the typical weak or stretched pelvic floor muscles, it may be caused by some other underlying condition, such as muscles that are too tight. A consult with your doctor can sort out any other health issues that might be contributing to incontinence.
  • Second opinion. When the only option presented to you by a surgeon is surgery, you should seek a second opinion. Surgery may be the best choice for your condition, but first, you should rule out all conservative methods of treating incontinence. Because surgery is their area of expertise, many surgeons are not aware of the newer conservative treatments, such as external electrical stimulation.

What now? Do something about it!

More than two-thirds of women who deal with leaky bladders don’t discuss it with their doctors. By the time most women seek treatment for incontinence, they’ve been dealing with bladder leakage for years or even decades. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to get back to normal. Here are some common reasons women delay seeking treatment:

  • I’m too busy. Between work, driving the kids to soccer, and trying to cook healthy meals, who has time to think about doing something for yourself? ELITONE is used at home and worn like a pad under your clothing, so you can do other things during the short 20-minute treatment. ELITONE’s discreet design enables you to treat while walking the dog, watching your kid’s soccer game, or paying the bills.
  • My leaks aren’t that bad. Women commonly say, “I don’t have incontinence; I only leak when I laugh, sneeze, or exercise.” Guess what? That’s incontinence! You may be able to manage your leaks now, but in time leaks will worsen. It’s much easier and cheaper to treat symptoms when they are less severe.
  • It’s too expensive. Pads may not seem expensive when you buy them one package at a time, but the lifetime costs of managing incontinence add up. And if symptoms progress to the point where surgery is the only alternative, the cost can be substantial. Don’t take that risk; treat symptoms early for the best results.
  • I’m too embarrassed. Incontinence isn’t something we like to think about, much less discuss, even with our doctor. Ideally, you should consult a healthcare professional about any aspect of your health, but ELITONE is easy to use and available without a prescription, so you can get started on your own.
  • I’m not inserting anything in my vagina. ELITONE is noninvasive and worn against the skin, just like a pad. Nothing is inserted inside your body, ever. All the other options require vaginal insertion, which is a non-starter for many women.

We hear your excuses, but there are new solutions that are time and cost effective. ELITONE is an FDA-cleared solution that treats SUI safely and discretely. And now that you’re equipped with the actual definition of incontinence, the types, and the different treatments, you also know you don’t have to live with urine leaks!