Urinary incontinence happens when you lose control of your bladder. In some
cases, you may empty your bladder’s contents completely. In other cases, you may
experience only minor leakage. The condition may be temporary or chronic,
depending on its cause.
According to the American
Academy of Family Physicians, millions of adults in the United States experience
urinary incontinence. It’s more common among women and people over 50 years of
age. But anyone can be affected by this condition.
As you age the muscles that support your bladder tend to weaken. This can
lead to urinary incontinence.
The condition can also be caused by many different health problems. Symptoms
can range from mild to severe, and can be a sign of an infection, kidney
stones, enlarged prostate, or cancer.
If you experience urinary incontinence, make an appointment with your doctor.
The condition can interfere with your daily life and lead to potentially
embarrassing accidents. Your doctor can also determine if a more serious
medical condition is the cause.
of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence is divided into three general types. You can potentially
experience more than one type at the same time.
Stress incontinence is triggered by certain types of physical activity. For
example, you might you lose control of your bladder when you’re exercising,
coughing, sneezing, or laughing. Such activities put stress on the sphincter
muscle that holds urine in your bladder. This can cause it to release urine.
Urge incontinence occurs when you lose control of your bladder after
experiencing a sudden and strong urge to urinate. You may not be able to make
it to the bathroom in time, once that urge hits.
Overflow incontinence can occur if you don’t completely empty your bladder
when you urinate. Later, some of the remaining urine may leak from your bladder.
This type of incontinence is sometimes called “dribbling.”
of urinary incontinence
There are many potential causes of urinary incontinence. Examples include:
- weakened bladder muscles, as a result of aging
- physical damage to your pelvic floor muscles
- enlarged prostate
Some of these conditions are easily treatable and only cause temporary
urinary problems. Others are more serious and persistent.
As you get older, the muscles that support your bladder typically become
weaker. This raises your risk of incontinence. To maintain strong muscles and a
healthy bladder, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits. The
healthier you are, the better your chances of avoiding incontinence as you age.
Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder. Damage to these muscles can
cause incontinence. This damage can be caused by certain types of surgery, such
as hysterectomy. It’s also a common result of pregnancy and childbirth.
If you’re male, the neck of your bladder is surrounded by your prostate
gland. This gland releases fluid that protects and nourishes your sperm. It
tends to enlarge with age. It’s common for men to experience some incontinence
as a result.
Prostate or bladder cancer can cause incontinence. In some cases, treatments
for cancer can also make it harder for you to control your bladder. Even benign
tumors can cause incontinence by blocking your flow of urine.
Other potential causes of incontinence include:
- urinary tract infections
- kidney or bladder stones
- prostatitis, or inflammation of your prostate
- interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition that
causes inflammation within your bladder
- side effects from certain medications, such as
blood pressure drugs, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and some heart medications
Some lifestyle factors can also cause temporary
bouts of incontinence. For example, drinking too much alcohol, caffeinated
beverages, or other fluids can cause you to temporarily lose control of your
When to seek medical
Any instance of incontinence is reason to seek medical help. It may be a
symptom of a more serious condition that needs to be treated. Even if the
underlying cause isn’t serious, incontinence can be a major disruption in your
life. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss treatment options
with your doctor.
In some cases, incontinence is a sign of a medical emergency. You should
seek immediate medical attention if you lose control of your bladder and
experience any of the following symptoms:
- trouble speaking or walking
- weakness or tingling in any part of your body
- loss of vision
- loss of consciousness
- loss of bowel control
to expect at your doctor’s appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will likely ask you questions about
your symptoms. They will probably want to know how long you’ve been
incontinent, which types of incontinence you’ve experienced, and other details.
They may also ask about your daily habits, including your typical diet and any
medications or supplements that you take. Depending on your symptoms and
medical history, your doctor may order additional tests, including:
- Collecting a sample of urine for analysis. Laboratory
staff can check it for signs of infection or other problems.
- Measuring the amount of urine that you release
when urinating, the amount left over in your bladder, and the pressure in your
bladder. This information is gathered by inserting a catheter, or a small tube,
into your urethra and your bladder.
- Conducting a cystoscopy. In this test, they will
insert a small camera into your bladder to examine it up close.
What your treatment will involve
Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the
cause of your incontinence. An underlying medical condition may require
recommend medication, surgery, or other treatments.
You may also be encouraged to conduct certain exercises,
such as pelvic floor exercises or bladder training. These can help to increase
your bladder control.
Sometimes, your doctor may not be able to cure your bladder incontinence. In
these cases, there are steps you can take to manage your condition. For example,
your doctor may advise you to:
- adjust your diet or fluid intake
- maintain a clear and well-lit path to the
- use absorbent undergarments or pads
- take scheduled bathroom breaks
You can’t prevent all cases of urinary incontinence, but there are steps you
can take to reduce your risk of developing it. Living a healthy lifestyle is
key. For example, try to:
- maintain a healthy weight
- get plenty of exercise
- eat a well-balanced diet
- limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption
- avoid smoking