What is Urinary Incontinence?
With urinary incontinence, you experience involuntary leakage of urine due to loss of bladder control. While it's perfectly normal to feel embarrassed by this situation, you are not alone.
People often avoid seeking help since they find it embarrassing - which means the condition is sometimes left untreated. This is very unfortunate since the underlying cause is often treatable, and treatment can improve quality of life dramatically.
Urinary Incontinence Symptoms
The symptoms and severity of urinary incontinence range from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong that you don’t get to the toilet in time. There are different types of incontinence and their symptoms can vary.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
The most common are stress, urge and overflow incontinence:
This is loss of urine when you exert pressure - stress - on your bladder by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy. Stress incontinence occurs when the sphincter muscle and/or the pelvic floor of the bladder is weakened. In women, this could be due to physical changes resulting from pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. In men, removal of the prostate gland can lead to this type of incontinence. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, and ranges from behaviour advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery.
This is a sudden, intense urge to urinate, followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Your bladder muscle contracts and may give you a warning of only a few seconds to a minute to reach a toilet. With urge incontinence, you may need to urinate often, including throughout the night. Urge incontinence may be caused by urinary tract infections, bladder irritants (pharmaceuticals, foodstuff etc.), urinary retention, bowel problems, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, injury or nervous system damage associated with multiple sclerosis. If there's no known cause, urge incontinence is also called overactive bladder. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, and ranges from behavior advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals, catheterisation and surgery, often a combination of treatment is mostly effective.
If you frequently or constantly dribble urine, you may have overflow incontinence, which is an inability to empty your bladder. Sometimes you may feel as if you never completely empty your bladder. When you try to urinate, you may produce only a weak stream of urine. This type of incontinence may occur in people with a damaged bladder, blocked urethra or nerve damage from diabetes and in men with prostate gland problems. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and ranges from catheterisation, behavior advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery, often a combination of treatment is mostly effective.
If you experience symptoms of more than one type of urinary incontinence, such as stress incontinence and urge incontinence, you have mixed incontinence.
Other, less common types of incontinence include:
- Functional incontinence: Older adults or disabled people may experience incontinence simply because a physical or mental impairment keeps them from making it to the toilet in time. For example, a person with severe arthritis may not be able to unbutton his or her pants quickly enough.
- Total incontinence: This term is sometimes used to describe continuous leaking of urine, day and night, or the periodic uncontrollable leaking of large volumes of urine. In such cases, the bladder has no storage capacity. Some people have this type of incontinence because they were born with an anatomical defect. It can be caused by injuries to the spinal cord or urinary system, or by an abnormal opening (fistula) between the bladder and an adjacent structure, such as the vagina. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and ranges from catheterisation, behavior advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery, often in combination.
[Add an image to break up text]
Causes of Urinary Incontinence
There are many possible causes of urinary incontinence:
- Your diet (both food and drink) and the use of certain medications can stimulate your bladder
- Other treatable medical conditions can also cause incontinence, including Urinary tract infections and Constipation
- Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause all pose potential causes of urinary incontinence in women
- Men may experience bladder leakage as a result of an enlarged prostate
- Injuries or diseases affecting the nervous system can affect signals to the bladder, leading to the leaking of urine, these include Spinal Cord Injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, Spina Bifida and Parkinson's Disease.
- Finally, urinary incontinence becomes more likely with age
Urinary Incontinence Treatment
If you are experiencing urinary leakage regularly, don't worry because there are lots of options out there for managing your bladder.
Depending on the severity of your urinary incontinence, your healthcare provider might suggest one of the following options:
- Lifestyle changes - usually around diet and excercise
- Behavioural interventions - such as pelvic floor exercises or bladder retraining
- Catheterisation - allowing you to choose when and where you empty your bladder
- Surgery - although this is rare because with catheterisation, most people are able to completely manage their incontinence
In this section, we explore the treatment options available for bladder problems, one of which being catheters. Learn about the different types of catheters and how they are used.
To live with a condition that requires you to catheterise on a regular basis may feel overwhelming in the beginning. Find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.