When one thinks of diabetes, chances are a few symptoms come to mind – numb toes and fingers, blood sugar spikes, and increased thirst. One symptom that may not immediately come to mind is urinary incontinence. We’re talking about the accidental leaks that occur when you laugh, cough, bend over, or put slight pressure on the urinary tract. This kind of incontinence is called Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) and affects somewhere between 25 and 30% of women in the US. While common, especially in older women, SUI is not a normal part of aging. There could be several reasons you’re experiencing leaks – surgery, having given vaginal birth, smoking, and obesity are all risk factors. But they are all linked to the common cause of bladder leaks in stress incontinence which is the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and surrounding tissue and nerves.
What is Diabetes?
To understand how diabetes and bladder leaks are related, it is important to understand what diabetes is and how it impacts the body. As most people know, there are two kinds of diabetes. Type 1 is when the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin, which is a hormone that allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keep your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children at an early age and is a lifelong condition that impacts daily life. Those with Type 2 Diabetes also have problems with the pancreas and insulin production, but not quite in the same way as Type 1. With Type 2, sometimes called adult-onset diabetes, the pancreas creates insulin, but the body doesn’t use it the right way. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to get glucose into your cells. But eventually it can’t keep up, and the sugar builds up in your blood instead. Both Type 1 and Type 2 have genetic factors that can influence whether or not an individual developed diabetes. Type 2, however, can be caused by a number of things including:
Extra weight – Being overweight or obese can lead to insulin resistance. Around 85% of diabetic individuals are overweight.
Metabolic syndrome – People with insulin resistance often have a group of conditions including high blood glucose, extra fat around the waist, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides.
Bad communication between cells – Sometimes cells send the wrong signals or don’t pick up messages correctly. When these problems affect how your cells make and use insulin or glucose, a chain reaction can lead to diabetes.
How Does Having Diabetes Lead to Leaks?
So you’re probably thinking, “Okay, but what does a blood sugar problem have to do with my bladder leaks when I sneeze?” This is because diabetes impacts your nerves in your body, including the nerves in your pelvic floor and urinary tract. This is due to a symptom of diabetes called diabetic neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves. It is believed that neuropathy is present in about 50% of diabetic people. With statistics like this, more women that are diabetic are at a higher risk of having nerve damage occur in their pelvic floor muscles and tissue which may lead to light leaks. In addition, because a majority of diabetic women are considered overweight or obese, the chances of developing leaks also increases. Extra weight adds extra pressure to the bladder, pelvic floor, and urinary tract over time weakens the muscles and tissue.
What You Can Do
If you’re experiencing leaks as a result of your diabetes or any other reason, and it is seriously impacting your quality of life, contact your doctor to find the right solution for you and your lifestyle. There are several practices and products available to women to help reduce or hide leaks throughout the day.
Pads and Liners – Incontinence pads and liners are made to line undergarments and quickly absorb leaks for several hours at a time. While there are plenty of designs, sizes, and shapes available, many women find that their pads are bulky and uncomfortable. In addition, to prevent infection and the chance of odor developing, the pads need to be changed often.
Kegels – These are exercises meant to target and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles specifically. Kegels can be done anywhere at any time, but take weeks or even months to show results.
Medication – Some women, mostly post-menopausal women, need estrogen to help restrengthen the tissue that supports the urethra. While this is an option for some women, unless it is determined by your doctor that this may be a factor, medication may not help.
Healthier Lifestyle – Losing weight, regular exercise, and quitting smoking can also help reduce leaks over time, in addition to helping improve quality of life.
Revive™ is another solution for women that are experiencing light bladder leaks as a result of diabetes or any other cause. It is a small, flexible, bladder support device designed to fit naturally and comfortably with a woman’s internal anatomy to provide support from the inside out. Available over-the-counter at retailers nationwide, Revive is easy and safe to use to reduce leaks for up to 12 hours a day!