The term urinary incontinence refers to a weakness or inability to control the flow of urine from the body. The condition is most common in women. Approximately 10 percent of all women have regular incontinence, and nearly 20 percent of women over age 75 experience daily UI.
Common Causes of Urinary Incontinence
Bladder infection (cystitis) is a common cause of UI. Other causes include weakened pelvic muscles as a result of childbirth, abnormal function of the bladder and/or urinary sphincter muscle; gynecological surgery, such as hysterectomy, obesity, overconsumption of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, enlarged prostate or prostate surgery, damage to the nervous system from disease, injury, or a brain tumor, and finally prolapsed (dropped) bladder, which can occur after menopause.
UI can also be the side effect of certain drugs, the result of disease or injury that either impairs the individual’s ability to recognize that he or she must urinate or makes it difficult to get to the bathroom in time, constipation, an unusually small bladder, or an obstruction in the urinary system. The bladder can also become irritated by concentrated urine, which occurs when a person does not take in enough fluids. UI can be acute, which means it occurs suddenly. In this case, the cause and condition are usually temporary. Chronic UI develops over time and the cause is not reversible.
In many cases, UI can be reversed by addressing the cause, such as treating a urinary infection, discontinuing drugs that can cause incontinence as a side effect, and limiting consumption of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. Drinking enough fluids each day, which means six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water, will prevent urine from becoming too concentrated. Emptying the bladder frequently, rather than waiting for the urge to urinate, can help urge incontinence.
Other types of treatment include bladder training, biofeedback, a skin patch containing oxybutynin, and drugs to relax the bladder. When overflow incontinence is caused by a blockage, surgery to remove the blockage is usually necessary. However, men with enlarged prostates may respond to drugs to reduce prostate size, which can make surgery unnecessary. Surgery to enlarge the bladder may be necessary if an extremely small bladder causes overflow.
In women, stress incontinence can be relieved with estrogen cream or tablets, drugs that tighten the sphincter, and Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The muscles in the perineal area can be strengthened by electrically stimulating the muscles to contract. Collagen injections around the urethra may also be useful. Surgical techniques include placing an inflatable insert into the urethra, raising the bladder neck and urethra, and urinary sphincter implant.
Reflex and functional incontinence may require the insertion of a catheter, which drains urine from the bladder through a tube attached to some type of container. A catheter can be permanent or used at regular intervals. Pads and undergarments are available to give the wearer security and comfort during times of urinary incontinence. They protect your skin and clothing from urine leakage, reduce odor, and are designed to be unnoticeable.
Many men and women do not seek treatment for urinary incontinence because they are embarrassed. If you are experiencing urinary incontinence, see your doctor. Treating the source of the problem could reverse your condition. Talk with your doctor about the types of drugs that can cause UI so you can avoid them, if necessary.