25.06.2018 Still a taboo topic: one in three women suffers from urinary incontinence 


One in three women is affected by urinary incontinence at some point in their life. Pregnancy and giving birth are among the biggest risk factors – 70 % of deliveries result in damage to the pelvic floor that makes urinary incontinence more likely later in life. Urinary incontinence and pelvic floor disorders after giving birth and in older women will form a special focus at the Annual Meeting of the International Urogynecological Association, taking place in Vienna from 27-30 June.

„One in every three women suffers from urinary incontinence at some point in their life, and one in five from pelvic floor dysfunction,” according to Professor Heinz Kölbl, Head of the Clinical Division for General Gynaecology and Gynaecological Oncology at the Medical University of Vienna, and chair of the local organisational committee for the Annual Meeting of the International Urogynecological Association (IUGA). “Although much has been done in recent years, our main priority is still to bring an end to the taboo surrounding both of these urogynaecological conditions. Many women continue to feel ashamed and suffer in silence. This doesn’t have to be the case, because there is now a lot we can do in prevention and treatment to reduce these problems,” Kölbl explained. More than 1,200 gynaecologists will meet at the IUGA Annual Meeting, taking place from 27 to 30 June at the Austria Center Vienna, with urinary incontinence and pelvic floor problems after giving birth and in older women top of the agenda. 

Pregnancy and giving birth major risk factors 
Women are generally at greater risk of urinary incontinence and pelvic floor disorders. This is due to the support and resistance functions performed by the female pelvic floor, which must withstand much greater strain due to pregnancy and giving birth. About 25 % of all women between the ages of 25 and 35 are affected at least temporarily by urinary incontinence following childbirth. “This is why it’s extremely important to do preventive pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy, to have professional support during the birth so that injury can be avoided, and to start using postnatal regression exercises after giving birth,” Prof. Kölbl pointed out. Women who have given birth to larger babies, who have undergone an assisted birth – for example using forceps – or who have gone through a particularly long labour have a high risk of urinary incontinence or pelvic floor dysfunction later in life. Statistically, the pelvic floor fully recovers within three months of giving birth in just 30 % of mothers – in 70 % of cases, damage remains. 

Caesarean section does not offer full protection
“Some women prefer to opt for a caesarean because of this risk, but this is not a panacea when it comes to preventing incontinence and pelvic floor weakness,” warned Kölbl. “Even women who have not had children can suffer from urinary incontinence or pelvic floor disorder later in life.”The reason is that urinary incontinence can also have other causes. Obesity patients, smokers and older women are all at higher risk of the condition. In particular, in later life hormone deficiency after the menopause, poorer blood flow and general tissue and muscle weakness can lead to incontinence. It is estimated that up to 40 % of all women over 60 may suffer from urinary incontinence. 

Good chances of recovery
Urinary incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction are not conditions that women need to suffer from in silence. Physical therapy – such as pelvic floor training for stress incontinence – pharmaceutical treatments, and prostheses to support the urinary sphincter can help greatly. If these forms of treatment do not result in significant improvement, surgical interventions are available – such as minimally invasive operations on the urethral ligaments, or vaginal sling procedures. “Using a vaginal sling procedure, for example, we can achieve complete recovery within five years in 87-90 % of cases.”

Press release
Heinz Kölbl (c) Heinz Kölbl
Urinary incontinence (c) IAKW-AG, iStock, napatacha
Pregnancy (c) IAKW-AG, iStock,vgajic

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IAKW-AG – Austria Center Vienna
Claudia Reis
Deputy Press Officer
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