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There are different risk factors that can bring about or worsen urinary incontinence:
Genetics. Some women are born with weak pelvic floor muscles or which are more likely to weaken. There is a greater likelihood of suffering incontinence if there is a history of it in your family.
Pregnancy. Hormones released during pregnancy relax tissues in the pelvic floor and enable the muscles to stretch. Additionally, weight gained as the baby grows affects the pelvic floor muscles in terms of maintaining optimal continence function.
Childbirth. During childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, vagina and rectum, are stretched to the limit by the pressure from the baby’s head pushing through them until it emerges from the vagina. In some women these muscles and the tissues around them never fully recover their tightness and the structures are weakened giving rise to urinary and faecal incontinence.
Menopause. At this stage of life, due to hormonal alterations, the body can undergo different changes that induce or aggravate the symptoms of incontinence and other problems associated with the pelvic floor.
Gynaecological surgery. Gynaecological surgery, e.g., removal of the uterus (hysterectomy), or other therapeutic procedures in the pelvic region, such as radiotherapy, can affect the nerves or anatomical structures that maintain continence. These changes can induce or worsen the symptoms of urinary incontinence or produce a bulging feeling in the genital area because the pelvic organs have descended (prolapse).
Obesity. It has been shown that overweight and obesity are risk factors for stress incontinence due to the increased pressure inside the abdomen and therefore against the bladder. This effect can also contribute to the appearance or aggravation of other problems associated with the pelvic floor, such as pelvic organ prolapse or urge incontinence.
Chronic constipation. An increase in abdominal force to bring about correct evacuation exerts pressure on the pelvic structures and strains the pelvic floor muscles, causing them to weaken.
Smoking. There is evidence that smoking is a risk factor for stress incontinence as regular smokers tend to cough chronically, leading to an increase in abdominal pressure.
Bladder stimulants. Excessive consumption of certain substances (caffeine, alcoholic, fizzy and artificially sweetened drinks) produce an overstimulation of the bladder, worsening the symptoms of urinary urgency and increasing the desire to visit the bathroom.
Overdrinking. Drinking too much fluid (over 1.5 l per day) can lead to the onset or worsening of incontinence.
Physical strain. Some of the activities we perform on a daily basis require repeated physical strain, whether due to work, hobbies, posture, etc. This results in an increase in abdominal pressure and overloads the pelvic floor structures, which can induce or worsen the symptoms of stress incontinence. Women who practise contact sports, or sports with stops and starts, weights, bending, etc., present a greater risk.
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Substantiated information by:
Amelia Pérez GonzálezNurseGynecology Department
Montserrat Espuña PonsGynaecologistGynecology Department
Sònia Anglès AcedoGynaecologistGynecology Department
Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018
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