Anyone who’s seen an adult diaper commercial can tell that incontinence products are marketed to older people. So it might be a surprise to learn that young adult and teenage incontinence is a real problem. And although it’s true that incontinence is more prevalent in women 65 and older (1 out of 2 women 65+ experience stress urinary incontinence), a surprising number of young adults grapple with bladder leaks.
How common is young adult and teenage incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is any involuntary bladder leak. Types of incontinence include:
- Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI): those little “oops” moments when you sneeze, cough, or laugh; also can occur during exercise.
- Urge Urinary Incontinence (UUI): when you can’t make it to the bathroom on time, including wetting the bed at night.
- Mixed Incontinence (MI): when you experience a combination of SUI and UUI.
Some women with infrequent bladder leaks might be tempted to ignore them and accept the inconvenience, but any amount of uncontrolled urination is incontinence. And if not treated now, incontinence worsens as you age.
Australian researchers surveyed more than 1,000 young women ages 16–30 across eight medical clinics and three college campuses. All the participants in this study were healthy, and none had experienced pregnancy. Researchers found that almost 13% of participants reported some type of urinary incontinence: 6% had SUI, 4.5 % reported UUI, and 2% reported MI.
“This will change your life for the better. I no longer have to stress about my incontinence, and I stopped wearing pads and liners completely. My first thought out isn’t where the bathrooms are. I have my liberty back.“
Gabrielle, NY, Age 21
What causes young adult and teenage incontinence?
SUI is the most prevalent type of incontinence in women. A healthy pelvic floor is key to maintaining a leak-free bladder. Your pelvic floor consists of layered muscles that create a hammock-type support for your bladder and other pelvic organs. When these muscles are stretched out or damaged, the bladder is not strong enough to function properly, resulting in incontinence.
Childbirth and advanced age are leading contributors to urinary incontinence. However, in young women who haven’t been pregnant, exercise is the primary cause of teenage incontinence. High-impact sports, such as running, CrossFit, or jumping rope, can traumatize your pelvic floor. The increased pressure of lifting heavy weights or doing intense moves, such as repeated burpees and weighted squats, can damage your pelvic floor muscles. And when your pelvic floor cannot support the bladder adequately, the mechanisms for retaining and releasing urine are compromised, resulting in incontinence.
I’ve never leaked. Why should I care about pelvic floor health?
Just because you haven’t experienced teenage incontinence doesn’t mean you will never develop bladder leaks. Incontinence affects about 1 in 3 women at some point, but prevention now can make a big difference later.
Prevention starts by educating yourself about pelvic floor and bladder health. Another step is to actively maintain a toned and strong pelvic floor. These two strategies will help you be more aware of any irregularities in your pelvic floor so you can act quickly to find solutions. Kegel exercises are the most common way to exercise and tone your pelvic floor muscles. Talk to your physician as well as older women in your community to learn more about bladder health and solutions for bladder leakage.
I already leak. What can I do?
If you’re experiencing occasional bladder leaks when exercising or sneezing, don’t worry! There are many strategies to reduce or even eliminate annoying leaks.
- Kegel Exercises. Something every woman can do to improve pelvic floor health is to practice Kegel exercises. These exercises can be done anytime and don’t take long. Kegels involve contracting and holding your pelvic floor muscles at regular intervals. When done correctly, Kegels effectively strengthen and tighten pelvic floor muscles.
- Modified Workouts. While you are toning and strengthening your pelvic floor, try to limit high-impact activities that cause your leaks. Stick to workouts that don’t put a lot of pressure on your pelvic muscles, such as power walking, swimming, and yoga.
- Body Weight. Talk to your physician to determine if your weight is contributing to your incontinence. Losing weight can help alleviate pressure on your pelvic floor and restore control of your bladder.
Are there other proven treatments?
When incontinence is so severe that it’s impacting your everyday activities, it’s time to engage your healthcare provider to look at the many treatment options.
Most physicians will advise you to start with Kegels. But knowing how to contract your pelvic muscles can be tricky, so there are a multitude of devices to help. But not all Kegel exercisers are created equally.
- Kegel trainers help identify your pelvic floor muscles. These devices need to be inserted vaginally and only give you feedback about your Kegels.
- Kegel exercisers actually do your Kegels for you, but some are still invasive because of the vaginal insertion.
- Elitone is completely noninvasive. This FDA-cleared external stimulation device does your Kegels for you without any insertion.
For example, 18-year-old Maddie was experiencing teenage incontinence. Sports were her life, but she slowly began limiting her workouts because bladder leaks kept her bound to the nearest bathroom. After a while, Maddie wasn’t able to exercise at all because her incontinence was so serious. When she asked her physician for help, he suggested an invasive, vaginally inserted instrument to help strengthen her pelvic floor muscles. But as a college student with two roommates, she couldn’t use the device in private. And with a full schedule of classes, she was too busy to schedule multiple times a week to focus on her Kegels. Maddie needed another solution, which is how she found Elitone.
What is Elitone?
Elitone is a noninvasive device that you wear under your clothes (like a maxi pad). This discreet exerciser contracts your pelvic muscles consistently during each session, and nothing is inserted “down there.” Elitone does 100 contractions longer and stronger than you can do on your own, and each session is only 20 minutes. You can wear Elitone while doing your daily activities and no one will know. Women who used Elitone four times a week reduced their pad usage by 85% in just 6 weeks. And because nothing is ever inserted vaginally, sessions are easier to plan, plus there’s less chance of infection.
Teenage incontinence and incontinence in young women is not an easy topic to discuss. However talking to your doctor about your symptoms and educating yourself about pelvic floor health can go a long way to eliminating leaks.