What causes bedwetting? 10 possible conditions

What Is Bedwetting?

Bedwetting is the loss of bladder control during the night. The medical term for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis or enuresis. Bedwetting can be an embarrassing issue, but in many cases, it is perfectly normal. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) estimates that 15 percent of children over the age of three wet the bed (AACAP, 2011).

Bedwetting is a normal developmental stage for some children. However, it can be a symptom of underlying illness or disease in adults. About two percent of adults suffer from bedwetting, according to the National Association for Continence (NAFC, 2012).

Causes of Bedwetting

Physical and psychological conditions can lead to bedwetting in some people. Common causes of bedwetting among children and adults include:

  • small bladder size
  • urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • stress, fear, or insecurity
  • prostate gland enlargement
  • sleep apnea (abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep)
  • constipation

Hormonal imbalances can also cause bedwetting in some people. Everyone makes a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH tells your body to slow down the production of urine overnight. The lower volume of urine helps a normal bladder hold urine overnight. People who do not make sufficient levels of ADH may experience nocturnal enuresis because their bladder cannot accommodate higher volumes of urine.

Diabetes is another disorder that can cause bedwetting. Patients who are diabetic do not process glucose (sugar) properly and may produce larger amounts of urine. The increase in urine production can cause children and adults who normally stay dry overnight to wet the bed.

Risk Factors for Bedwetting

Gender and genetics are among the risk factors for bedwetting. Both boys and girls may experience episodes of nocturnal enuresis during early childhood. However, boys are more likely to wet the bed when they get older. The Mayo Clinic estimates that up to 50 percent more males than females wet the bed (Mayo Clinic, 2012).

Family history plays a role, too. You are more likely to wet the bed if a parent, sibling, or other family member has had the same issue.

Bedwetting is also more common among children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The relationship between bedwetting and ADHD is not fully understood by researchers.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Bedwetting

Certain lifestyle changes may end bedwetting. Setting limits on fluid intake plays a large part in controlling bedwetting. Try not to drink water or other liquids within a few hours of bedtime to reduce the risk of having an accident. Drink the majority of your daily fluid requirements before dinnertime. This will ensure that your bladder is relatively empty before bedtime. Cut out caffeinated or alcoholic drinks in the evening because caffeine and alcohol are bladder irritants, and may cause you to urinate more.

Devise a voiding schedule to help you stay dry overnight. A voiding schedule simply means that you urinate on a regular timetable, such as every one to two hours. Use the bathroom right before you go to bed to empty your bladder fully before sleep.

Bedwetting can sometimes occur during a stressful event in a young person’s life. Conflict at home or school may cause your child to have nightly accidents. The birth of a sibling, moving to a new home, or another change in routine can be stressful to children and may trigger bedwetting incidents. Talk to your child about how they are feeling. Understanding and compassion can help your child feel better about his or her situation, which can put an end to bedwetting in many cases.

Refrain from punishing bedwetting incidents. Praise your child when he or she stays dry. This will help him or her feel good about not wetting the bed.

Medical Treatment for Bedwetting

Bedwetting that stems from a medical condition requires treatment beyond just lifestyle adjustments. Medications can treat a variety of conditions of which bedwetting is a symptom. For example:

  • antibiotics can eliminate UTIs
  • anticholinergic drugs can calm an irritated bladder
  • desmopressin acetate increases levels of ADH to slow nighttime urine production
  • DHT-blocking medications reduce swelling of the prostate gland

It is also important to control chronic conditions, such as diabetes and sleep apnea. Bedwetting associated with underlying medical issues will likely resolve with proper management.

Outlook for Bedwetting

Most children outgrow bedwetting by about seven years old. By this age, bladder control is stronger and more fully developed. Lifestyle changes, medical treatment, and support from family and friends can help children and adults overcome bedwetting.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Night Terrors

Night terrors are a form of sleep disorder in which a person partially awakens from sleep in a state of terror.

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Stress And Anxiety

Stress can be triggered by an event that makes you feel frustrated or nervous, such as moving, death, starting a new job, and having a baby. Long-term stress can produce both physical and psychological symptoms.

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Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that result high levels of glucose in the blood due to a lack of insulin production. Glucose is a natural sugar that your body uses as a source of energy.

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Urinary Tract Infection

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria and can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Symptoms of upper UTIs include pain in the upper back, chills, fever, and nausea.

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Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a loss of control of the bladder. It can be a reaction to a physical activity, a sudden urge, or dribbling after urination, and may be caused by aging, damage, or a condition.

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Bladder Infection

A bladder infection is a bacterial infection. It also may be called a urinary tract infection (UTI), which refers to infection anywhere in the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters, or urethra.

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Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements with hard, dry stools. Poor diet and dehydration are usually to blame, though certain diseases or other medical issues are possible causes.

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Spinal Cord Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A spinal cord injury, or damage to the spinal cord, is an extremely serious type of physical trauma. It will likely have a lasting and significant impact on most aspects of daily life. According to the Nationa...

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Caffeine Overdose

You're at risk for caffeine overdose when you ingest more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine (about three 8-oz cups of coffee) in a day. Dizziness, diarrhea, headache, and severe thirst may occur.

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Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic diseases caused by defects in insulin production or function. Advanced diabetes may cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, and cramps.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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