By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Women are much more likely to be affected by urinary incontinence than men, which is the result of various factors. The anatomy of the female urinary system makes them more susceptible to problems with the excretion of urine, in addition to particular life events that only affect women, such as childbirth.
The most common types of incontinence for women are stress and urge incontinence, as a result of the causative factors that are relevant for women.
Urinary incontinence tends to be a condition that is under-reported as it is a potentially embarrassing condition to seek help for, and many women experience mild symptoms that do not inhibit their quality of life significantly. As a result, the epidemiologic data on the condition varies considerably, and it is difficult to determine the real prevalence.
However, 15-50% of women of all ages are thought to experience symptoms of urinary incontinence. More severe symptoms, such as losing a large quantity of urine or on a more frequent basis, affects approximately 1 in 10 of all women.
As women age, the prevalence of the condition rises and more women report symptoms of incontinence. This is likely to result from several factors, such as after childbirth and the general aging of the body and urinary system.
The Female Urinary System
One of the predominant reasons that female are more susceptible to urinary incontinence is the anatomical positioning of the urine organs. Of particular note, the ureters, which carry the urine from the bladder to the ureter to be excreted, are much shorter in length than male ureters. As a result, there is less opportunity for the muscles in the area to contract and stop the flow of urine.
Women and Stress Incontinence
Stress incontinence involves the involuntary leakage of urine as a result of activities that put stress on the bladder. Sudden laughter or coughing, as well as intense exercise or heavy lifting may lead to the unexpected leakage of urine in varying amounts.
This is often due to weakening of the sphincter or pelvic floor muscles that are needed to control the flow of urine. Women are more susceptible to this type of incontinence due to the anatomy of their urinary system and particular life events, such as childbirth, that lead to weakening of the muscles.
Women and Urge Incontinence
Urge incontinence involves the sudden and irrepressible need to urinate and often women affected by the condition do not have enough time to reach a bathroom to urinate.
More women are affected by urge continence than men, which is likely due to the specific conditions that are likely to cause urge incontinence, including overactive bladder and urinary tract infection may cause the condition. Infection of the urinary tract, in particular, occurs much more commonly in women and men and probably accounts for the higher prevalence of urge incontinence.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnancy is a condition unique to the female gender and the process of childbirth is known to have an adverse effect on the ability to pass urine. This is due to the strain on the muscles of the pelvic floor during childbirth, which can weaken significantly in the period following giving birth.
Pelvic floor muscles play an important role in the control of urine flow and are able to stop the flow or urine midway through urination. If these muscles are weakened, such as during childbirth, the effects can be evident with symptoms of sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
Last Updated: May 20, 2015