Urinary incontinence, leaky bladder common, but embarrassing topic to bring up with doctor

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Dr. Christopher Hutchison, OB-GYN, meets with a patient at his Riverton office on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Urinary incontinence is embarrassing to talk about and hard to admit, but doctors say it can be fixed.

"You don't need to live your life wearing a diaper all the time," said Dr. Christopher Hutchison, an OB-GYN at Intermountain Healthcare's Riverton Hospital.

He said he often has to go the roundabout way of getting women to talk about their urinary incontinence, but a good percentage of his patients are dealing with it.

"I'd say about 40 percent of them won't say anything about it if I don't ask," he said.

Hutchison, along with Dr. Orrenzo Snyder, a urologist at Riverton Hospital, will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline, where they will take questions about female urinary incontinence. From 10 a.m. until noon, individuals can call 1-800-925-8177, or post questions online at the Deseret News' Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.

Various types of incontinence — stress incontinence, urge incontinence or a mixture of the two — can be caused by poor genes, weak muscles, unhealthy lifestyles and/or an overactive bladder muscle, among other things. Most commonly, a leaky or bulging bladder has something to do with vaginal prolapse, which is a splitting of the muscles in the vaginal wall, allowing the bladder to sag internally.

Multiple pregnancies, hysterectomy and menopause can also contribute to the causes of female incontinence. However, that is not always the case.

Many women put up with the symptoms, but Hutchison said nearly all types of incontinence can be fixed, resulting in a better quality of life.

"There's a social stigma associated with incontinence," Snyder said. Putting up with the symptoms over the years, however, will not cause permanent damage.

Weight loss can sometimes help in the case of stress incontinence, which happens when coughing, sneezing, jogging or other activity leads to a loss of control of the bladder. But oftentimes, women must endure the inconveniences of urine leakage while losing the weight as most types of exercise can spur it on.

Men don't typically have the same issues with incontinence because their bladder is supported by the structure of the pelvis, Hutchison said.

He hopes women aren't just living with the constant annoyances incontinence causes, dealing with absorbent pads or diapers. Most cases, he said, can be prevented by "just taking care of yourself."

Chronic constipation, consumption of caffeinated or carbonated beverages, as well as those with artificial sweeteners, can irritate the bladder, leading to more trips to the restroom and an inability to completely empty the bladder, Hutchison said. Smoking, which breaks down the body's collagen supply, and chronic coughing that puts stress on muscles can also lead to incontinence.

Snyder, a specialist who deals with kidney, bladder and prostate issues, said he's seen patients ranging from 17 years of age to 81, but urinary incontinence symptoms are most common in women during their late 30s and early 40s.

Achieving normalcy is the goal of any treatment, which can include medications, surgery and nonsurgical procedures.

"The secret is a good relationship between the patient and her doctor," Snyder said, adding that an open dialogue helps to arrive at the best possible outcomes, which is an informed decision.

Saturday: A look at treating female urinary incontinence

Hotline Saturday

The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline focuses on female urinary incontinence. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Christopher Hutchison, an OB-GYN, and Dr. Orrenzo Snyder, a urologist, both from Intermountain Healthcare's Riverton Hospital, will answer questions from the public. Call 1-800-925-8177, toll-free. Individuals can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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