Urinary incontinence treatment and causes as Gemma Collins shares experience

A huge number of women in the UK live with mild or minor incontinence - and very few seek medical help.

Gemma Collins, who has shared her battle with urinary incontinence. (Getty Images)
Gemma Collins has shared her battle with urinary incontinence. (Getty Images)

Gemma Collins has shared her battle with urinary incontinence in a bid to break the “taboo” around the condition, which many women live with.

The former TOWIE star, 42, revealed that she has dealt with bladder leaks for most of her adult life, but now has an understanding of how widespread the issue is.

"I’ve always suffered from bladder leaks, probably from my mid-20s actually," she told New. "But now I’m in my 40s it has definitely got worse."

The reality star went on to detail one particular moment that made her realise "enough is enough" while she was trampolining with her nephew, Hayden.

"All of a sudden I jumped in the air and the floodgates just opened," she explains. "I was soaked right through and the worst [things] just kept going through my head. I was thinking, 'Oh gosh, am I going to need an operation? Am I dying?' I was so worried someone would be watching me, too, and that I wouldn’t be able to do fun things with Hayden ever again."

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Women are often too embarrassed to seek help for incontinence. (Getty Images)
Women are often too embarrassed to seek help for incontinence. (Getty Images)

Incontinence is incredibly common

Research, from women's health brand Elvie reveals Collins isn’t the only one to feel this way, as 84% of women in the UK suffer from mild or minor incontinence, with just 7% seeking medical help.

"It was unbelievable to find out how many women suffer with this, and yet there’s still a taboo surrounding it," Collins says. "It’s so sad. Since I’ve openly said 'I get bladder leaks', lots of people have thanked me for being open about it.

"Women have been silent for so long, or felt too embarrassed to say anything about it. I’ve even heard of some cancelling holidays or plans with friends because they’re scared of a leak."

Collins hopes that by sharing her own experiences of incontinence it will encourage other women to seek help for the issue.

“This isn’t something we should worry about,” she adds. “Doctors and nurses have seen it all before. It’s the sort of subject we need to be talking about openly.

“It can happen to any woman, no matter their shape, size, weight, height, or even fitness level. We want to keep the conversation going so future generations feel comfortable to bring it up too.”

Urinary incontinence: The facts

The NHS explains that urinary incontinence or bladder leakage is the unintentional passing of urine. It's a common problem thought to affect millions of people.

There are several types of urinary incontinence, including:

  • Stress incontinence – when urine leaks out at times when your bladder is under pressure; for example, when you cough or laugh

  • Urge incontinence – when urine leaks as you feel a sudden, intense urge to pass urine, or soon afterwards

  • Overflow incontinence (chronic urinary retention) – when you're unable to fully empty your bladder, which causes frequent leaking

  • Total incontinence – when your bladder can't store any urine at all, which causes you to pass urine constantly or have frequent leaking

It's also possible to have a mixture of both stress and urge urinary incontinence.

"Urinary incontinence, whether it's stress-related or urge-related, can significantly impact a woman's self-esteem and quality of life," explains Dr Elise Dallas, Women's Health GP specialising in menopause at The London General Practice.

"Embarrassment and shame often prevent women from seeking help, as they fear being labelled as unclean or weak. But urinary incontinence is a common condition, especially among women. Remember that seeking assistance is an important step towards improving your quality of life."

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What causes it?

According to the NHS, stress incontinence is usually the result of the weakening of or damage to the muscles used to prevent urination, such as the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter.

Certain things can increase the chances of bladder leakage developing, including pregnancy and vaginal birth, obesity, a family history of incontinence and increasing age – although incontinence is not an inevitable part of ageing.

Incontinence is a common problem but it can have an issue on self-esteem. (Getty Images)
Incontinence is a common problem but it can have an issue on self-esteem. (Getty Images)

How is bladder leakage treated?

The NHS recommends some measures for attempting to control the symptoms of bladder leakage including:

  • Lifestyle changes – such as losing weight and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol

  • Pelvic floor exercises – exercising your pelvic floor muscles by squeezing them, taught by a specialist

  • Bladder training – where you learn ways to wait longer between needing to urinate and passing urine, guided by a specialist

"You may also benefit from the use of incontinence products such as absorbent pads and handheld urinals," the NHS site continues.

If things still don’t improve your doctor may recommend medication and in extreme cases, surgery.

Though it isn’t always possible to prevent bladder leakage, the NHS does have some suggestions for reducing the chance of it developing including controlling your weight, avoiding or cutting down on alcohol and keeping fit, paying particular attention to strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.

Dr Dallas also recommends keeping a bladder diary to track patterns and triggers (typical ones: persistent cough, caffeine, alcohol fizzy drinks).

"Our goal is to empower you to regain control over your bladder function and ensure your wellbeing," she adds.