What Causes Incontinence – And What You Can Do About It
Urinary incontinence or loss of bladder control isn’t a disease, but a symptom of something else that’s happening in your body. It could be caused by your habits, certain medical conditions or physical disabilities.
It’s an embarrassing problem if you can’t make it to the bathroom in time and either leak urine or have sudden urges that cause you to run to the toilet. Often, the urge is so strong that you don’t get there in time.
When urinary incontinence begins to affect your daily lifestyle, it’s time to see the doctor to receive a diagnosis and get help with whatever condition you have. Sometimes, you can make simple lifestyle adjustments to completely stop or alleviate the condition.
There are many possible causes for urinary incontinence – and just as many treatments – ranging from losing weight to bladder exercises. You need to know the most common causes of urinary incontinence, how they may be diagnosed and what you can do about treatment or managing the problem.
Causes and Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence
You may experience urinary incontinence on a temporary basis from drinking too much alcohol, caffeine, decaffeinated or carbonated drinks. Artificial sweeteners and corn syrup or foods high in sugar or acids (predominately citrus fruits) may also contribute to incontinence.
If you have a medical problem for which you have to take sedatives, heart and blood pressure prescriptions and muscle relaxants or large amounts of vitamins B and C, you could also experience incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is usually divided into three categories – stress, urge and overflow. Stress incontinence is when you lose urine involuntarily when you sneeze, cough or lift something heavy.
Urge incontinence is classified as an involuntary and overpowering urge to urinate and overflow incontinence is when you urinate frequently and may dribble urine involuntarily. Persistent urinary incontinence indicates a more serious problem and should be treated by a physician.
Some incontinence problems such as a urinary tract infection are easily treatable. An infection in the urinary tract causes strong compulsions to run to the bathroom with little time between episodes.
You may also experience burning and itching sensations in the genital area and your urine may emanate a strong, unpleasant odor if you have an infection. If you’re constipated, you may have temporary incontinence because of the rectum’s close location to the bladder.
When your stool is compacted or hard, the nerves in that area of the body work overtime and can increase the need for frequent urination. Persistent urinary incontinence may also be caused by a pregnancy and the increasing weight of the uterus.
After childbirth, you may also experience incontinence problems if you muscles were weakened or the nerves in the bladder or tissues surrounding the bladder were damaged.
A prolapsed pelvic floor may also be a result of pregnancy and causes the bladder, rectum, small intestine or uterus to push into the vagina, which can also cause incontinence.
An aging bladder, menopause, certain surgeries such as a hysterectomy, enlarged prostate in men and prostate cancer in some men may be a reason for incontinence problems.
Tumors may also block the flow of urine and cause overflow incontinence and urinary stones may cause leakage. Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis and a brain or spinal problem is often the cause of incontinence in both men and women.
You may be at risk for urinary incontinence if you’re overweight as the extra pressure of weight on your bladder may weaken the muscles around it. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to suffer from stress incontinence caused by childbirth, pregnancy or menopause and men may experience incontinence through prostate gland issues.
As we age, the muscles in and surrounding the bladder and urethra tend to lose elasticity causing you to experience involuntary bouts of incontinence. Your bladder simply can contain as much urine as it did before.
Type 2 diabetes is a leading cause for incontinence and increases the sensitivity of your bladder. If you’ve inadvertently gained weight with diabetes, the extra pounds may contribute to urinary incontinence.
Chronic urinary incontinence may be manifested by frequent urinary tract infections, rashes and other skin problems from being constantly damp in the genital area. You may also experience profound and negative changes in your person life including work, social activity and relationships.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re experiencing urinary incontinence. Help can be found if you know the cause. Urologists specialize in urinary tract disorders or, if you’re a woman, consult with your gynecologist.
There are also some alternative methods of treating and managing urinary incontinence. You can pick and choose which solutions work best for your body and needs.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Urinary Incontinence
Diagnosis of a urinary incontinence problem may be as simple as a urine test to see if there are signs of an infection or traces of blood in the urine and other conditions causing the problem.
You’ll likely need to provide your doctor with a complete medical history and brief physical exam. One test that a medical professional may try is to have you close your mouth while pinching your nose and exhaling.
After an initial exam your doctor may recommend that you keep a diary of your bladder happenings to record the amount you drink. You’ll also need to record how many times you go, how much urine there is and if you had to go really badly – along with how many times you were incontinent.
A doctor can use a test (ultrasound) or catheter to see if there are more serious problems, such as a damaged or blocked nerve in your urinary tract or any problems with the muscles. It involves you going into a container so the amount of urine can be measured.
Another test the doctor may order is a cystoscopy where a finite tube with a lens is injected into your urethra so he can see if there is anything wrong inside the urinary tract. A pelvic ultrasound may be ordered to check for other abnormalities of the genitals and urinary tract.
Urodynamic testing can be done to measure the strength of your bladder and the health of your urinary sphincter muscles. The doctor puts a catheter into your urethra and fills your bladder up with water to record the amount of pressure on the bladder itself.
A cystogram may be ordered to help your doctor track problems in your urinary tract. They put a catheter inside of your urethra and bladder where a special type of dye is inserted. While you urinate, X-rays are taken to better follow the urine’s progress as it leaves your body.
The type of urinary continence and severity you’re experiencing and the diagnosis of a cause will determine the treatment involved. You may receive several treatments, beginning with the least invasive and then discuss other options if those methods fail.
The least invasive of treatments includes training the bladder so urination is delayed even after you get the urge to go to the bathroom. You may try to hold the urine for 10 minutes at first and then lengthen the time as your bladder becomes more trained. A good goal is to increase the time between toilet trips to between two to four hours.
Food and drink management is another way to get back control of your bladder. Cutting down on beverages such as alcohol or those which contain caffeine and avoiding acidic foods is one method to reduce overactive bladder.
Losing weight, increasing physical exercise and reducing your consumption of liquids is another method that sometimes works to calm a nervous bladder. Also, try scheduling your trips to the toilet – like urinating every two or four hours rather than going every time you feel the urge.
Overflow incontinence may be helped by double voiding. This means you empty your bladder more completely by waiting a few moments after urinating and then attempting to urinate again.
You may have heard of Kegel exercises that are meant to strengthen muscles involved in the urination process. These specialized exercises involve the series of muscles located in and around the pubic bone, including the anus, vagina, rectum and urethra.
These exercises can help men or women restore muscle function to reduce the symptoms of incontinence. You can find Kegel exercise instructions online or seek help from a therapist or health care provider.
Natural therapies that can help urinary incontinence include the dietary changes such as tobacco, alcohol, pepper and spicy foods and caffeine which can irritate the bladder. And, avoid excess pounds which may put unnecessary stress on the bladder.
Biofeedback has been known to help those with incontinence by helping you to identify the pelvic muscles and strengthen them. You’ll use signals from your own body to control incontinence.
Keep a bladder diary to help you identify the triggers which may help you pinpoint the problems. And, avoid the feminine deodorant products. Some of these contain chemicals and additives that can aggravate the urethra.
When Incontinence Affects Your Lifestyle – Where to Get Help
If you find that incontinence issues are affecting the way you live your life – such as cutting out social activities, exercise, causing a strain in a relationship and other problems – seek help from a medical professional. There are several remedies available from vaginal inserts to surgeries.
Electrical stimulation may help to control the urine flow and immediate urges. Electrodes are temporarily inserted into the vagina and act to stimulate and calm the urethra muscles.
Also available are plugs which are inserted much like a tampon and are mainly used for stress incontinence. Another insert is called a pessary and can be effective if you are experiencing a prolapse of the bladder or uterus and resulting weakened muscles.
A fairly new treatment for urinary incontinence that’s gaining in popularity involves a woman’s stem cells. The stem cells are gathered from blood and remain in a lab for a few weeks for culture and are then transplanted into the urinary tract by injection.
The stem cells are known to restore muscle mass of and around the urethra and also provide elasticity. It’s an outpatient procedure that only takes up to 20 minutes and provides results within 24 hours.
You may consider surgery if the incontinence problem is caused from a blockage, enlarged prostate or a change in the bladder’s position. During this surgery, the bladder is lifted from the pelvic floor and secured.
If the incontinence issue is serious, the surgeon may use a wide sling to hold the bladder and reduce the urethra’s passage to prevent involuntary leakage. Urge incontinence is best treated by the bladder augmentation surgical procedure, which utilizes part of the bowel to increase the bladder’s capacity to hold more urine.
One procedure implements a small device which is connected to a wire and sends tiny pulses of electricity to the nerves controlling the bladder. The device is inserted just under the skin, so it’s not an extremely invasive procedure.
Medications such as anticholinergics can sometimes help calm an overactive bladder. Mirabegron is used to treat incontinence from severe urges. It relaxes the bladder and also may increase the amount of urine you can hold in your bladder.
Alpha blockers such as Flomax may also be effective for men with urges or overflow issues. They relax the bladder muscles and fibers in the prostate so it’s easier to empty the bladder and empty it more thoroughly.
Topical estrogen may also be a way to rejuvenate the tissues within the urethra and vaginal tract so they’re stronger and more able to resist urinary urges. It’s a topical treatment that comes in the form of a ring, patch or cream.
There are also certain medical treatments you can turn to for help such as Botox (Botulinum toxin type A), which is injected into the bladder muscle to help those with an overactive bladder.
Another injection type – bulking material comprised of synthetic materials – helps to reduce bladder leakage and is non-invasive. The procedure consists of injecting the bulking material into the tissue around the urethra.
If medical treatments and other methods don’t completely get rid of your incontinence issues, turn to products that will help with the inconvenience of a urinary tract problem. The latest designs and materials in pads and other protective garments can be worn with no detection beneath your clothing.
Men can use drip collectors – the absorbent padding which is worn on the penis and kept in place by wearing fitted underwear. Catheters may also be used if your bladder is overactive or you have overflow issues. You simply insert the catheter into the urethra to drain the bladder.
Incontinence issues don’t have to ruin your social life or relationships or make you stop doing the things you love. Much information is available online and through your health care provider. Learn what you can and then make an educated decision about how to deal with a urinary incontinence problem.