Incontinence is, among all symptoms of menopause, most likely the one with the highest potential for public embarrassment, and thus very few women will openly admit that it affects them. However, some studies point out that almost 40% of women experience this symptom at some point of their life. Women who are approaching menopause usually experience stress incontinence, a leak of urine when coughing, sneezing, or laughing. This happens because the hormonal imbalance present during this phase can cause the bladder and pelvic muscles to lose elasticity.
Fortunately, stress incontinence or any other symptom caused by fluctuations in estrogen levels can and should be treated. Prescriptions for hormonal replacement therapy became a very popular option for treating menopause-related incontinence, although it is falling out of favor because of the persistent link between it and certain types of cancer, as well as its association with higher rates of heart disease and blood clots. Nowadays, experts believe that the most effective and safest way to treat urinary incontinence involves a combination of lifestyle changes and alternative therapies.
Three Approaches to Treating Incontinence
When it comes to incontinence treatments, there are three levels of approaches that are usually considered. These are: (1) Lifestyle Changes, (2) Alternative Medicine, and (3) Medications and Surgery.
It is best for women to try first the least risky option for menopausal incontinence, lifestyle changes, and then move on to the next level, or combine the first two. Medications should be reserved for extreme cases, when other ways to manage the symptom have failed and quality of life is severely hindered.
1. Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes form the safest and least invasive way to treat urinary incontinence, but they require the highest degree of self-discipline. In many cases, some simple lifestyle adjustments can provide enormous relief against incontinence and help women to significantly improve their health.
The main keys for coping with urinary incontinence during menopause are improving the diet, engaging in a steady routine of Kegel exercises, and practicing timed urination in order to regain control of the bladder. Several studies have pointed that consuming enough phytoestrogenic foods like soy or chickpeas can improve symptoms of menopausal incontinence to a certain degree, and fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C will drastically diminish the chances of developing a urinary tract infection.
In addition, Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic muscles and prevent, reduce, or eliminate urine leakage. To complete Kegel exercises, women should relax the thigh, buttock, and abdominal muscles, and then tighten the pelvic floor muscles, or the muscles that control urine flow. The contraction should be held for 10 seconds before relaxing for 10 seconds. Ideally, women should repeat 10 Kegel exercises in the morning, afternoon, and evening in order to achieve best results.
Another potentially helpful lifestyle change is timed urination, which involves going to the bathroom according to the time rather than waiting for the need; the goal is to go to the bathroom on a routine, planned basis every two to four hours.
Simple Lifestyle Changes for Incontinence
- Eating a balanced diet rich in soy and chickpeas
- Doing Kegel exercises regularly
- Practicing timed urination
Lifestyle changes can be a very effective way to alleviate menopausal incontinence, although they require discipline and constant practice, and some women may find them difficult to execute. Furthermore, while they may be good for symptom relief, they will not address the hormonal problem lying underneath.
On the other hand, alternative medicines are a safe, non-invasive, and efficient option to restore hormonal function, and thus to get rid of the root of urinary incontinence. Continue to the next section to learn more about alternative treatments for incontinence.
2. Alternative Medicine
There are several alternative methods to combat urinary incontinence, and while they can all be effective for different kinds of women, herbal supplements are usually regarded as the easiest-to-follow option with the least amount of risk.
The two main categories of herbal supplements for fixing menopausal hormonal imbalances are phytoestrogenic and hormone-regulating herbal supplements.
Phytoestrogenic supplements. This category of plants, such as soy, contains plant-made molecules that are very similar to human estrogen. This way, when ingested, they can help alleviate estrogen deficiency by replacing the estrogen the body is no longer producing as much of. However, although increasing estrogen levels may help with stress incontinence during menopause, it is best to use these herbs for only short periods of time, since long-term use may eventually interfere with the body's natural hormone production.
Hormone-regulating supplements. This category of plants, which includes Macafem, works in a completely different way because they don't contain any hormonal substitutes. Instead, they have a high nutrient concentration that nourishes the endocrine system from within, allowing it to resume a steady production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone by itself. For this reason, they are an effective way of treating all types of menopause symptoms - not just the ones caused by estrogen deficiency - and they carry virtually no side effects.
From "Nature and Health Magazine," Dr. Gloria Chacon says:
Women find that a combination of approaches - namely lifestyle changes and alternative treatments - to be the safest and yet most effective way to treat menopausal incontinence. This is usually enough for the majority of women, although in some severe cases, more invasive medical treatments may be necessary. In such cases, it is important for women to be fully aware of the risks entailed by these pharmaceutical options.
3. Medications and Surgery
Medication and pharmaceutical approaches for menopausal incontinence involve the highest costs and risks, especially when looking at a long-term treatment. In the U.S., the most popular treatment for incontinence and other symptoms related to menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The role of HRT in treating urinary continence has been controversial, in part because it carries dangerous side effects, like an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
These serious side effects were uncovered by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), the largest clinical trial ever conducted in the U.S., under the supervision of the National Institutes of Health. The WHI was started in 1991, and it was meant to assess the benefits and downfalls of HRT, but it was stopped in 2002 after it was found that the use of artificial hormones was linked to higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer, stroke, and blood clots.
There are other medications that can be used to improve urinary incontinence by relaxing bladder contractions. They may have dizziness and dry mouth as side effects. These include:
- Anticholinergic medications
- Beta agonists
- Tricyclic antidepressants
In the severest of cases, surgery may be undertaken to repair the vaginal walls or control the flow of urine.
The three levels of treatment described here - lifestyle adjustments, alternative medicine, and medications - can be combined or used by themselves, and so they should not be regarded as mutually exclusive. Each woman may combine them as necessary to suit her individual needs, but more and more women every day find that combining herbal supplements with the appropriate lifestyle changes provides the best results.
A Safe Way of Treating Incontinence
Being sure to:
- Practice Kegel exercises or use vaginal cones
- Consume a diet rich in fiber
- Drink less fluid
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Jumping and running
- Carbonated drinks
- Caffeine, citric fruits, and spicy food
And taking herbal supplements like Macafem:
- Nourishes the hormonal glands to promote hormone production
- All-natural, high in nutrients, effective, and safe
- Hickling, D.R. & Nitti, V.W. (2013). Management of Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections in Healthy Adult Women. Reviews in Urology, 15(2), 41-48. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784967/
- National Institutes of Health. (2015). Kegel exercises - self-care. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000141.htm
- National Institutes of Health. (2015). Stress urinary incontinence. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000891.htm
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Urinary incontinence fact sheet. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/urinary-incontinence.html
- Quinn, S.D. & Domoney, C. (2009). The effects of hormones on urinary incontinence in postmenopausal women. Climacteric, 12(2), 106-113. doi: 10.1080/13697130802630083