Three Myths About Urinary Incontinence

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sarah Boyles, MD, FACOG, URPS

It’s a new year and you’ve decided you’re finally going to run that marathon you’ve been meaning to train for. You lace up your shoes, find a training program, and dream of the gold medal as you run through the park… until you start leaking urine after a few minutes. You might think only the elderly and mothers have incontinence issues, or that it’s normal to “just pee a little.” However, millions of women either stop living the active life they want because they are embarrassed, or accept living with it because they think it’s normal to leak.

Let’s look at three common beliefs about urinary incontinence and what treatment options are available.

“Leaking is for old people”

Many women blame the leaking on their age. “You might know an older woman who has had some issues with urinary incontinence– maybe a grandma or neighbor,” said Dr. Sarah Boyles, Urogynecologist with The Oregon Clinic. While it’s true that leaking is more common in older women, it is not exclusive to the elderly. Urinary incontinence is common in athletes and women who are active, especially runners and those who do CrossFit or other high impact sports like aerobics.

“One study from 2007 showed that about 25% of high school and college women leaked during high impact sports,” said Dr. Boyles. “In addition, 15% of the women were negatively affected by their leaking, and a staggering 90% of them reporting they never told anyone about it”

“Leaking is for women who have had kids”

Some women may blame their leaking on having given birth. “Support for the urethra can be weakened by pregnancy and childbirth, which is one reason why women are four to five times more likely to have incontinence issues compared to men,” said Dr. Boyles. However, nerve damage from surgery, obesity, chronic coughing due to smoking and lung disease (visit page 2 for how to quit), genetics, and repeated heavy lifting are all risk factors for urinary incontinence.

Seeking treatment for, or changing lifestyle habits, may help alleviate urinary incontinence as well as lead to an overall healthier life.

“Leaking is something only I have”

“This is probably the most common theme in my incontinent patients– they think they are the only one who leaks,” said Dr. Boyles. In reality, over 25 million Americans live with some type of incontinence.  But only 1 in 12 seeks help. “So many women have this problem but are too embarrassed to talk about it even with their friends, let alone a doctor,” said Dr. Boyles. It can be isolating, as women may choose to stop doing the activities they love out of fear they will leak.

Running and playing sports are great ways to lead a healthy life. With many simple and non-invasive treatment options available, urinary incontinence should not be something that holds you back from getting outside or exercising. The important thing is to talk to your primary care provider about treatment options or see a specialist who can help find a solution that works for you.

Dr. Sarah Boyles is a board-certified Urogynecologist at The Oregon Clinic. Dr. Boyles and her team specialize in treating women with pelvic floor disorders.