When treating women, I am often asked by mums about “little leaks” their teenage girls complain of (or don’t but Mum suspects ). This will often be called “giggle incontinence” and I often hear women say to me “Oh I have always had a weak bladder …I used to wet myself when laughing as a kid.” The only wetting you should do when laughing is the tears running down your face. Unless you have an anatomical or physiological ( medical talk for problem) with your actual bladder or urinary system (this is very rare) then you don’t have a weak bladder and it isn’t something that you just put up with or accept .
Teenage girls can also leak a bit when coughing and sneezing. All of these are scenarios known as Stress Urinary Incontinence…..involuntary leaks when the bladder is placed under stress or pressure. One of two things is happening here – either the urethral sphincter ( the washer that keeps the bladder safely closed) or the pelvic floor muscles which tighten to help hold this sphincter closed are weak or not functioning properly. Now again, it is rare in a teenager for this to actually be a structural problem.
It is more likely a bad habit or poor muscle strength / co-ordination. The more this is accepted, the worse the problem can potentially become.
Let’s look at some of the possible causes of those little teenage leaks …and you will see that the majority can be overcome or managed.
- High intake of caffeine - a known bladder irritant. In other words caffeine irritates the bladder and makes it want to empty urgently – the classic “weak bladder’. Coffee, tea, coke and stimulant drinks all contain caffeine and are often consumed in large quantities by teenagers. Stop them and your “weak bladder” may suddenly become “strong” again!
- Constipation – straining on the loo can weaken the pelvic floor muscles and stretch the elastic support tissue. A full rectum can put pressure on the bladder and lead to leaks as well. Poor diet and hormonal changes in teen years are contributing factors. Improve diet and water intake, learn to sit on the loo correctly
- Growth spurts – we often see a temporary loss of core control when teenagers suddenly shoot up, become gangly and lack co-ordination. As the pelvic floor is part of the core control system, weakness or lack of co-ordination can lead to poorer pelvic floor function and hence leaks. Correctly taught and supervised pilates can be helpful.
- Hormonal changes – as women we are often aware of being less in control around “that time of the month”. Hormonal changes that occur around period time can lead to a temporary sense of urgency and lessened ability to contract our pelvic floor muscles as effectively so we can notice the occasional leak at these times. Be aware and take care around period time.
- Bladder infections are common in teenage girls – see your doctor for a simple urine test to eliminate this possibility. See your doctor if you suspect an infection.
Addressing these factors will probably result in improvement. If however the problem does not resolve with simple measures then it is best to consult your doctor to ensure that there isn’t an underlying health problem.
Here is a resource that you may find helpful: a great book by physiotherapist Mary O’Dwyer on how to become a confident,leak-free girl no matter what your age!
Hold It Sister – the confident girls guide to a leak free life Address those problems now – you don’t grow a pelvic floor when you have a baby -you are born with it, treat it well through the teen years and you will have less problems as you age.