Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the flow of urine and is a common side effect of a number of uro-oncology treatments, including surgery of the prostate and bladder as well radiation therapy.
Physiology of Normal Bladder Filling
Normal bladder filling depends on unique elastic properties of the bladder wall that allow it to increase in volume at a pressure lower than that of the bladder neck and urethra (otherwise incontinence would occur). Despite provocative manoeuvres such as coughing, voluntary bladder contractions do not occur. Emptying is dependent on the integrity of a complex neuromuscular network that causes relaxation of the urethral sphincter a few milliseconds before the onset of the detrusor (bladder muscle) contraction. With normal, sustained detrusor contraction, the bladder empties completely.
The Types of Urinary Incontinence
Leakage of small amounts of urine during physical movement (coughing, sneezing, exercising).
Leakage of large amounts of urine at unexpected times, including during sleep.
Functional untimely urination because of physical disability, external obstacles, or problems in thinking or communicating that prevent a person from reaching a toilet.
Unexpected leakage of small amounts of urine because of a full bladder.
Usually the occurrence of stress and urge incontinence together.
Transient leakage that occurs temporarily because of a condition that will pass (infection, medication).
Women experience incontinence twice as often as men. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and the structure of the female urinary tract account for this difference. However, birth defects, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and physical problems associated with aging can also cause incontinence.
The level of incontinence differs for each person and depends upon the treatments that they have had, however for some people the phenomena may be short lived while for a few it may be permanent.
There has however been a lot of progress in dealing with continence issues and there are a wide variety of aids and equipment for collecting urine, preventing infection and protecting the skin and surrounding area. There are also a number of exercises that can be done to strengthen the urinary sphincter muscle that controls the opening and closing of the bladder.
Exercising the Pelvic Floor
Pelvic floor exercises are an important and relatively easy way to improve your bladder control. When done correctly they can build up and strengthen the muscles that help you hold urine. The pelvic floor is made up of muscles stretched like a hammock from the pubic bone in the front through to the bottom of the backbone. These firm supportive muscles help to hold the bladder, womb and bowel in place and also function to close the bladder outlet and the back passage. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that support the pelvic contents and prevent the escape of wind, faeces or urine. Stronger muscles can also enhance sexual satisfaction for both partners.
Electrical stimulation is the application of an electrical current to stimulate the pelvic muscles or their nerve supply. The aim of electrical stimulation is to directly improve pelvic muscle strength in order to assist in bladder control. This is achieved by inserting a vaginal device into the vagina. This device generates electrical stimuli. Electrical stimulation may also be used to inhibit the overactive bladder.
The aim of bladder retraining is to overcome urgency and stretch out the intervals between trips to the toilet.
Today surgery for stress incontinence has become quite minimally invasive and can often be performed either as a day stay or overnight procedure. Of all the methods there are two that have become very popular:
- Sub-Urethral Sling (TVT)
- Laparoscopic Burch
Technically they both achieve the same result, but they are done differently.
Below are charts, instructions, forms related to incontinence care. Click on the desired handouts to open them in a new browser window.
Talk to the incontinence nurse at your local hospital or to your medical team for advice about the management options for incontinence available to you.