Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

Urinary incontinence is a common and often uncomfortable problem that is characterized by the loss of bladder control. This can range from an occasional leak of urine when one coughs or sneezes to having such a sudden and strong urge to urinate that one might not get to a toilet in time. It is a symptom rather than a disease in itself, typically indicative of underlying medical conditions or changes in physical health.

Stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence, and mixed incontinence are a few of the several types of urine incontinence. Each of these represents different causes and triggers for the loss of urine control, and they may require different diagnostic and treatment approaches.

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Who is affected by urine incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can affect individuals of any age, gender, or race, although certain groups tend to have a higher risk. The primary groups affected by urinary incontinence include:

Women: Women are generally more likely to experience urinary incontinence than men. This can be due to factors like pregnancy, female anatomy, childbirth, and menopause which can affect the urinary tract and the muscles that support it.

Older Adults: Age is a significant risk factor for urinary incontinence. As we age, our muscles weaken, including those that control the bladder and urethra. This can result in increased incidents of urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence increases with age, with up to 30% of women and 15% of men living in the community (not in nursing homes) experiencing incontinence.

Overweight Individuals: Obesity increases the risk of urinary incontinence. Excess body weight puts additional pressure on the bladder and surrounding muscles, which can lead to leakage .

People with Certain Diseases or Conditions: Neurological disorders or conditions like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and spinal injury can disrupt the nerve signals to the bladder and cause incontinence. Also, men with prostate problems and women with pelvic organ prolapse can experience incontinence.

Smokers: Chronic coughing associated with smoking can cause or exacerbate stress incontinence.

People who have had surgery in the pelvic area or treatment for prostate cancer may also be at risk.

It’s important to note that while urinary incontinence is common, it’s not considered a normal part of aging. If you’re experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence, it’s important to seek medical advice as effective treatments are available.

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Why do women experience urine incontinence at a higher rate than men?

Urinary incontinence, or the unintentional leakage of urine, is more common in women than in men, due to several reasons, primarily related to female anatomy, hormonal differences, and life events unique to women.

Female Anatomy: Women have a shorter urethra than men, which reduces the distance that urine must travel to exit the body. Additionally, the female urethra is closer to the anus, increasing the risk of bacterial transfer and urinary tract infections, which can sometimes cause temporary incontinence .

Pregnancy and Childbirth: Pregnancy puts significant pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to stress incontinence. The situation can be exacerbated by vaginal childbirth, which may weaken pelvic floor muscles and damage nerves that control the bladder. Episiotomies or injury to the pelvic organs during childbirth can also contribute to incontinence.

Menopause: During menopause, estrogen levels drop, which affects how well the tissues lining the bladder and urethra function and are strong. This decrease in estrogen levels may weaken these tissues, raising the likelihood of incontinence.

Hysterectomy: In women, surgeries related to female reproductive health, like a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), can damage the supporting pelvic floor muscles or the nerves that control the bladder, resulting in incontinence.

Aging: Aging can lead to a decrease in the bladder’s capacity to store urine, as well as a decrease in the body’s response to signals that it’s time to urinate, leading to different types of incontinence .

However, it’s important to note that while these factors increase the risk, urinary incontinence is not an inevitable part of being a woman or getting older. Many treatment options are available that can reduce or even eliminate symptoms, ranging from physical therapy for the pelvic floor muscles, to medications, to surgical interventions. A healthcare provider can provide guidance on the best treatment options based on an individual’s specific situation.

What types of urine incontinence are specific to women?

Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

Urinary incontinence, which is the loss of bladder control, can affect both men and women, but there are some types that are more common in women due to anatomical differences, hormonal factors, and the physical stresses of pregnancy and childbirth. These types include:

Stress Incontinence: This is the most common type of incontinence in women. It occurs when the muscles that support the bladder and regulate the release of urine (pelvic floor muscles) become weak or damaged. Exercise, sneezing, laughing, and other bodily motions can increase pressure on the bladder and cause urine to leak unintentionally. (8).

Overflow Incontinence: This type of incontinence occurs when the bladder is not able to empty fully, leading to overflow and leakage. It’s less common in women than men, but can still occur due to a blockage or obstruction, or nerve damage that impairs bladder contractions.

Urge Incontinence: Overactive bladder, another name for urge incontinence, is characterized by an unexpected, intense urge to urinate followed by an uncontrollable leak of urine. The cause is frequently unknown; however, it may be something little like an infection or something more serious like a neurological condition.

Functional Incontinence: The prevalence of this sort of incontinence is higher in older persons who have medical issues that make it difficult for them to use the loo promptly. For instance, having severe arthritis can make buttoning trousers challenging.

Mixed Incontinence: This occurs when a person has more than one type of urine incontinence. People typically experience both stress and urge incontinence (10).

Pregnancy and Postpartum Incontinence: Hormonal changes during pregnancy, the weight of the fetus on the bladder, and the strain of childbirth can all contribute to incontinence, which can persist postpartum (11).

Additionally, women may experience incontinence related to menopause, as falling estrogen levels can weaken the urethral tissue. It’s important for women who experience any form of incontinence to talk to their healthcare provider, as there are many treatment options available, including pelvic floor exercises, lifestyle changes, medications, and surgical options.

What signs and symptoms exist with urine incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can manifest in various ways, and each person might experience symptoms differently. Common symptoms may include:

1.Frequent Urination: One of the signs of a urinary problem is needing to urinate more often than usual due to an overactive bladder. Frequent urination is typically defined as urination that occurs more than 8 times in a day.

2.Nocturia: This refers to waking up frequently to urinate during the night (12). While it can be related to high fluid intake, it can also be a sign of urinary incontinence.

3.Urgency: A sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine can signify urgency urinary incontinence (15).

4.Bedwetting: Involuntary urination during sleep can be a symptom, particularly in children, but it may occur in adults too.

5.Dribbling: This is a common symptom and involves leaking urine after you’ve finished urinating, often due to the bladder not completely emptying.

6.Pain or Discomfort: Some people may experience lower abdominal pain or discomfort in the pelvic region associated with the bladder filling and/or emptying (13).

7.Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Repeated UTIs can be a symptom of an underlying urinary incontinence issue (14).

8.Changes in Urine Color or Smell: While not a direct symptom of incontinence, changes in urine color or smell can indicate a urinary problem. For example, darker urine can signify dehydration, which can exacerbate incontinence, while foul-smelling urine can suggest a urinary tract infection, which can also increase the urgency and frequency of urination.

9.Difficulty Starting a Stream or Emptying the Bladder Fully: This may be a sign of overflow incontinence, a condition where the bladder doesn’t empty completely.

10.Urinating More Often During the Day and Quantity of Urine: This symptom refers to needing to urinate more frequently, even when the quantity of urine is small (15).

11.Hesitancy: This is characterized by difficulty starting the urinary stream, even when you have a strong urge to go (15).

12.Dysuria: This refers to painful urination, which can be a sign of a urinary tract infection or bladder inflammation, conditions that may exacerbate incontinence (16).

13.Pelvic Pain: Some individuals with urinary incontinence may experience pelvic pain (16).

If you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional. These could be signs of underlying health conditions that require medical attention.

Why does incontinence in the urine occur?

Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

The inability to hold urine can be attributed to various factors. These include age-related changes in the urinary system, physical changes resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, prostate problems in men, neurological disorders, and diseases affecting the bladder.

Age-related changes: As people age, their bladder muscles can weaken, leading to a decrease in the bladder’s capacity to store urine and an increase in overactive bladder symptoms (17).

Prostate problems in men:

In men, prostate conditions like benign prostatic hyperplasia—a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland—can interfere with the smooth flow of urine from the bladder. In some cases, prostate cancer can also lead to incontinence. Additionally, treatments for prostate cancer such as surgery or radiation can result in urinary incontinence (18).

Pregnancy and childbirth: During pregnancy, the uterus expands and puts pressure on the bladder, leading to incontinence (11). Additionally, the strain of vaginal childbirth can weaken the bladder control muscles and harm the bladder nerves and supporting tissue, which can result in a prolapsed pelvic floor. It is possible for the bladder, uterus, rectum, or small intestine to protrude into the vagina when there is prolapse.

Neurological disorders: Disorders of the nerves that supply the bladder can lead to incontinence. This can include conditions like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or after a stroke (19). Spinal injury can also interfere with the normal flow of nerve signals to the bladder and urethra.

Bladder diseases and conditions: Conditions such as bladder stones, bladder cancer, or bladder inflammation (cystitis) can cause urinary incontinence (18). Urinary tract infections can also temporarily lead to incontinence.

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How can pregnancy produce incontinence of the bladder?

Pregnancy can lead to urinary incontinence due to several factors:

Hormonal changes: During pregnancy, your body produces higher amounts of the hormone’s progesterone and relaxin. These hormones help to relax the body’s muscles in preparation for childbirth, but they can also loosen the muscles around the bladder and urethra, leading to incontinence .

Increased pressure on the bladder: As the uterus expands with the growing fetus, it puts increased pressure on the bladder. This pressure can lead to both stress incontinence (where pressure on the bladder leads to urine leaks during activities like coughing, sneezing, or exercising) and urge incontinence (where you feel a strong, sudden need to urinate).

Weakened pelvic floor muscles: The weight of the growing baby can strain and weaken the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and help control urination. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can result in urine leaks.

Changes during childbirth: Pelvic organ prolapse, a disorder caused by the vaginal delivery procedure, can occur when weak bladder control muscles, bladder nerves, and supporting tissue are affected. Incontinence can result from prolapse, in which the bladder, uterus, rectum, or small intestine protrude into the vagina from their normal position.

How is urine incontinence brought on by childbirth?

Childbirth can contribute to urinary incontinence in several ways:

Vaginal Delivery: Vaginal birth has the potential to weaken bladder control muscles and harm bladder neurons and supporting tissue. As a result, the bladder, uterus, rectum, or small intestine may become pushed downward from their normal positions and protrude into the vagina, a disease known as pelvic organ prolapse. The prolapse of a pelvic organ can cause incontinence.

Prolonged Labor: Long labor may cause more damage to the muscles and nerves around the bladder, increasing the likelihood of incontinence .

Large Baby or Instrumental Delivery:

If the baby is large or instruments like forceps or a vacuum extractor are used during delivery, this can also cause damage to the pelvic muscles and nerves, leading to incontinence.


An episiotomy, a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth, can sometimes lead to incontinence if it extends to the muscle that controls the anus (anal sphincter).

It’s worth noting that while urinary incontinence can be brought on by childbirth, it’s not inevitable and there are preventive strategies, such as pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel exercises), that can help. If incontinence persists after childbirth, it’s important to seek medical advice, as there are a variety of effective treatments available.

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What causes urine incontinence during menopause?

During menopause, the body’s production of estrogen decreases significantly. Estrogen is a hormone that helps keep the lining of the bladder and the urethra healthy. With the decrease in estrogen levels, the tissues of these areas can deteriorate, potentially leading to urinary incontinence. Here’s how:

Decreased Muscle Tone: The lower levels of estrogen can lead to a decrease in muscle tone in the urethra, which can reduce its ability to close completely. This can result in episodes of stress incontinence, where physical activity such as coughing, sneezing, or exercising causes a small amount of urine to leak.

Bladder Irritability: The changes in the urinary tract tissues can also cause the bladder to become more irritable, leading to symptoms of urge incontinence. This is characterized by a sudden, strong need to urinate immediately, with leakage occurring if one can’t reach a bathroom quickly.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse:

Reduced estrogen levels can also lead to a weakening of the muscles and connective tissues that support the pelvic organs. This can lead to pelvic organ prolapse, where the bladder, uterus, or rectum droop into the vagina, causing a range of symptoms including incontinence.

It’s important for women going through menopause to discuss any changes or symptoms with their healthcare provider, as there are many effective treatments for menopause-related urinary incontinence, ranging from pelvic floor exercises to hormone replacement therapy.

Which kind of medical professional should I see for assistance with urine incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can be addressed by a number of healthcare professionals, depending on its severity, underlying cause, and the presence of other health conditions. Here are a few professionals you might consider:

Primary Care Physician (PCP): This is often the first point of contact. They can do an initial evaluation, provide guidance on behavioral strategies or medications, and refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Urologist: These are doctors who specialize in diseases and conditions of the urinary tract in both men and women. They also specialize in the male reproductive system. Urologists are often consulted for complex or persistent cases of urinary incontinence.

Gynecologist/Urogynecologist: For women, a gynecologist who specializes in urinary issues can often provide treatment (26). A urogynecologist has additional training and specializes in pelvic floor disorders in women, which include incontinence.

Geriatrician: These physicians, who specialize in care for older adults, are often experienced in managing incontinence.

Physiotherapist: Physiotherapists, especially those who specialize in pelvic floor therapy, can provide exercises and strategies to help strengthen the muscles that control the bladder.

Remember, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing urinary incontinence. There are many effective treatments available, and they can guide you to the best course of action based on your individual needs.

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How is urologic incontinence determined?

The process of diagnosing urinary incontinence often involves several steps:

Medical History: Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, including any illnesses, surgeries, pregnancies, and medications. They will also ask about your symptoms, including when they occur, how often, and under what circumstances. A thorough medical history can help identify any conditions or habits that might contribute to incontinence.

Physical Examination: A physical exam can help determine the type and cause of incontinence. In women, this may include a pelvic exam to check for any physical changes that might be causing incontinence. In men, it may include a rectal exam to check the prostate.

Bladder Diary: Your healthcare provider might ask you to keep a bladder diary, in which you note when, how much, and what kind of fluids you consume, as well as when and how often you urinate and experience leakage.


Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

A urinalysis involves testing a sample of your urine to check for signs of infection, traces of blood or other abnormalities (28)


Further testing may be required in some cases:

Bladder Stress Test: This test can help determine whether you leak urine when pressure is applied to your bladder, which might happen when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or engage in physical activity.

Postvoid Residual (PVR) Measurement: This test measures how much urine is left in your bladder after urination. This measurement is taken by ultrasound or catheterization. It can help determine if you have an issue with bladder emptying.

Urodynamic Testing:

Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

These tests measure the pressure in your bladder and the flow of urine to assess how well your bladder is functioning.


Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

In this procedure, a thin tube with a camera is inserted into your urethra to examine your bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions.

Imaging: Tests like ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI might be used to get a detailed view of your urinary tract.

By conducting these evaluations and tests, a healthcare professional can better understand the causes of urinary incontinence and suggest appropriate treatment options. It’s important to openly and thoroughly discuss all symptoms with your healthcare provider to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment Options for Inability to Hold Urine

Treatment options vary depending on the type of urinary incontinence, its severity, and the underlying cause. Here’s a summary of the most common treatment strategies:

A. Lifestyle Modifications

Fluid Management: Patients may be advised to limit fluid intake at certain times of the day, avoid certain fluids that irritate the bladder like caffeine and alcohol, and ensure they’re not drinking too little or too much overall.

Bladder Training: This technique involves delaying urination after getting the urge to go. The goal is to lengthen the time between trips to the bathroom until they’re spaced two to four hours apart.

Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegel Exercises): These exercises can strengthen the muscles that help control urination. They involve tightening, holding, and then relaxing the muscles that you use to start and stop the flow of urine.

B. Medications

Medications can often help manage symptoms of urinary incontinence. The type of medication will depend on the type of incontinence, but may include anticholinergics, mirabegron, alpha blockers, topical estrogen (for women), duloxetine or other drugs designed to calm an overactive bladder or relax bladder muscles.

C. Medical Devices


Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

For women, a pessary can be used, which is a stiff ring inserted into the vagina to support the bladder and reduce leakage.

Urethral Insert: Before some activities, a small, disposable device resembling a tampon can be put into the urethra to stop leaks.


Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

If other treatments aren’t working, the doctor might recommend a catheter — a tube inserted into the urethra to drain urine from the bladder.

D. Surgical Interventions

If other treatments aren’t working, surgery may be an option. Some common procedures include:

Sling Procedures:

Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

These procedures entail wrapping a’sling’ around the urethra and the bladder neck, a region of dense muscle where the bladder joins to the urethra. Muscle, ligament, and tendon tissue, synthetic materials, and absorbable mesh can all be used to make slings.

Bladder Neck Suspension:

Stop Urinary Incontinence: Causes and Tips to Improve

The goal of this surgery is to support the urethra and bladder neck, a region of dense muscle where the urethra and bladder meet (34).

Prolapse Surgery: Surgery may combine a sling technique and prolapse surgery for women who have both mixed incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

E. Emerging Therapies

Botox: Botox can be used to treat overactive bladder by injecting the toxin into the bladder muscle, causing it to relax and increase storage capacity. This can decrease urinary incontinence episodes and may cause urinary retention.

Nerve Stimulators: A device similar to a pacemaker can be implanted to stimulate the sacral nerve, which is critical to bladder function. There’s also a non-implantable version that stimulates the tibial nerve in the ankle.

These treatments can often be combined to provide the best possible outcome for the patient. However, what works best will depend on the type of incontinence, patient preferences, other health issues, and the patient’s lifestyle.

How to Live with Urinary Incontinence

Living with urinary incontinence can present a variety of challenges, but effective management strategies can make it easier to cope with the condition.

A. Psychological Impact and Coping Strategies

Incontinence can cause a variety of emotional responses, including embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, and depression.

Counseling: Individual or group therapy can be beneficial for dealing with the emotional effects of living with incontinence. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, has been shown to be effective in managing the psychological impacts of chronic health conditions, including incontinence.

Support Groups: Connecting with others who are dealing with the same issue can provide a sense of community and shared understanding. Support can be found in local groups or online communities.

Self-Care: Regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet can help manage stress and improve overall wellbeing. Mind-body techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga may also be beneficial.

B. Using Incontinence Products

There are many products available that can help manage the symptoms of incontinence:

Pads and Protective Undergarments: Many types of pads and underwear are available that can absorb urine leaks, protect your skin, control odor, and prevent embarrassment.

Adult Diapers: For heavy or complete incontinence, protective underwear or adult diapers may be used.

Protective Bedding: Waterproof mattress covers and absorbent bed pads can protect bedding and make cleanup easier.

C. Tips for Managing Incontinence in Social Situations

Managing incontinence in social situations can be challenging, but these strategies can help:

Plan Ahead: Know where restrooms are located in places you’ll be visiting. If you’re going to be somewhere for an extended period of time, you might consider using a protective garment.

Dress for Easy Access: Wear clothes that can be easily removed, such as pants with an elastic waistband.

Communication: If you’re comfortable, consider letting a close friend or organizer know about your condition, so they can help you navigate the situation if needed.

Living with urinary incontinence can certainly be challenging, but with effective management strategies and support, people can lead active, fulfilling lives. It’s also important to remember that treatment can significantly improve, if not entirely eliminate, symptoms for many people.

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If I have urine incontinence, should I limit my fluid intake?

While it might seem logical to cut back on fluids if you’re experiencing urinary incontinence, this isn’t always a good idea. Proper hydration is important for overall health, including the health of your urinary system. Dehydration can lead to constipation and concentrated urine, both of which can irritate the bladder and worsen urinary incontinence.

That being said, it can be helpful to moderate your fluid intake in certain situations:

Avoid drinking large amounts of fluid at once: Instead, spread out your fluid intake throughout the day. Aim for six to eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day, but remember that needs can vary based on age, activity level, and overall health (40).

Consider your timing: If nighttime incontinence is a problem, try reducing your fluid intake in the evening a few hours before bed (40).

Limit bladder irritants: Certain beverages can irritate the bladder and increase your urge to urinate. These include alcoholic beverages, drinks containing caffeine (like coffee, tea, and some sodas), acidic drinks like citrus juices, and carbonated beverages (41).

Remember, everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to listen to your body and adjust your habits as needed. If you’re unsure about what to do, it can be helpful to discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider. They can give you advice that’s tailored to your specific needs and situation.


While living with urinary incontinence can be challenging, it is essential to remember that it doesn’t have to control your life. With the right strategies and treatments, incontinence can be managed effectively, allowing individuals to lead full, active lives. The psychological impact should not be underestimated, and support is available, whether through healthcare professionals, support groups, or loved ones.

Don’t let incontinence dictate your activities or diminish your quality of life. With the right help and management, you can take control back from incontinence and live life on your own terms.


What does it mean when you can’t hold your urine?

Inability to hold urine or urinary incontinence is a condition where you unintentionally pass urine. It’s a common problem thought to affect millions of people. Symptoms can range from occasional leaking when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong you don’t get to a toilet in time.

What are the main types of urinary incontinence?

The two most common types of urinary incontinence are stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when physical movement or activity puts pressure on your bladder, causing leakage. Urge incontinence is when you have a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can be caused by many things. Lifestyle factors, like caffeine consumption or lack of physical activity, can contribute. Medical conditions such as urinary tract infections, constipation, and certain neurological disorders can also cause symptoms. In women, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause often contribute to incontinence. Prostate problems can lead to incontinence in men.

Can urinary incontinence be treated?

Absolutely, urinary incontinence can often be significantly improved or completely resolved with appropriate treatment. Treatment options can include lifestyle changes, bladder training techniques, pelvic floor exercises, medications, or, in some cases, surgery. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to understand the best treatment for your individual circumstances.

What lifestyle changes can help improve urinary incontinence?

Lifestyle changes can greatly assist in managing urinary incontinence. These can include reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and avoiding lifting heavy items that can strain the pelvic floor. Quitting smoking can also improve incontinence as chronic coughing can lead to leaks.

What are pelvic floor exercises and how can they help?

Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, can strengthen the muscles that support the bladder and prevent leakage. They involve tightening, holding, and then relaxing the muscles you would use to stop urinating or passing gas.

How often should I do pelvic floor exercises?

It’s usually recommended to do these exercises multiple times a day, such as three sets of 8-10 contractions, holding them for about 10 seconds each. It’s important to do these consistently and to consult with a physical therapist or doctor to ensure you’re doing them correctly.

What should I do if lifestyle changes and exercises aren’t helping?

If you’ve tried lifestyle changes and exercises and they aren’t enough, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider. They may suggest other treatments such as medication, biofeedback, or in some cases, surgery.


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