Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, is a very common, though often embarrassing problem. The loss of urine can range from a few drops when a person laughs or coughs, to complete wetting. There are also many different treatment options available that give people the hope of returning to a more normal life.
Types of Incontinence
There are several different types of urinary incontinence, each with different causes and possible solutions:
- Stress incontinence is very common in women, especially after childbirth and as they age. It is characterized by the loss of urine after laughing, coughing, sneezing or something similar. The stress of pregnancy, childbirth and menopause on the structure that supports the bladder can cause the structure to weaken, allowing the bladder to move downward, preventing the muscles that close the urethra tightly from closing as they should. Additionally, these muscles can weaken with age.
- Urge incontinence describes the leakage of urine for no reason, then feeling the sudden urge to urinate. This is caused by bladder contractions that occur when they aren't supposed to. These contractions are likely caused by abnormal nerve signals triggering the bladder spasms. Certain medical conditions, hyperthyroidism and uncontrolled diabetes for example, my cause or worsen urge incontinence. Other traumas such as damage to the bladder nerves, a spinal cord injury, or conditions such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis can also harm bladder nerves and cause urge incontinence.
- Functional incontinence occurs in people with medical problems that interfere with thinking, movement or communication. These people may have difficulty reaching the bathroom, or communicating to a care giver that they need to go.
- Overflow incontinence is exactly what it sounds like. This is what happens when the bladder doesn't empty all the way and then it overflows. A doctor can check for this problem. It is more common in men, being very rare in women.
Other types of incontinence are mixed incontinence and transient incontinence. Both stress and urge incontinence can occur at the same time in women. This is known as mixed incontinence. Transient incontinence is temporary and is usually the result of medication, urinary tract infections or some other temporary condition. It usually resolves on its own as the causative problem resolves.
There are a number of causes of urinary incontinence, and as mentioned above, they vary based on the type of incontinence.
- Bladder damage
- Nerve abnormality in the bladder
- Weakened muscles around the urethra
- Weakened bladder muscles
- Neurological problems
- Physical handicap
When it comes to urinary incontinence, the majority of the complications associated with it are psychological. While those with urinary incontinence can develop skin rashes, the larger concern is the mindset of those who suffer from a loss of bladder control.
Urinary incontinence is an embarrassing problem to have, and people are often too ashamed to seek medical treatment. Because of this, they resort to adult diapers, which increase the feelings of shame and depression. It can also lead people to avoid leaving their homes for fear of having an accident while they are out in public. Sadly, most urinary incontinence is very treatable, meaning that these people don't have to be a slave to their bladder problems.
There are a number of treatments available for treating incontinence and most are highly effective.
- Bladder retraining: this is where a person urinates at timed intervals.
- Kegel exercises: these exercises work the muscles in the pelvic floor that control the flow of urine. Over time these exercises can strengthen muscles enough to end incontinence.
- Medication: the medications for urinary incontinence come from a class of drugs called anticholinergics. These medications prevent bladder spasms. These medications do come with some minor side effects.
- Biofeedback: this treatment uses electronic devises to track bladder and urethra activity in order to help patients gain control.
- Neuromodulation: this method uses an electrical stimulation device implanted in the body to help regulate the signals to the bladder as they come from the spinal cord.
- Vaginal devices: a pessary is a stiff ring inserted by a doctor that puts pressure on the walls of the vagina and the urethra in an effort to reposition the bladder and strengthen the urethra muscles.
- Injections: bulking products can be injected in the area around the urethra to help relieve incontinence caused by a weak urethral sphincter. Over time this product slowly eliminated from the body so it may need to be repeated.
- Catheterization: this is used in severe cases of overflow incontinence. People learn how to insert catheters in order to completely empty the bladder.
There is hope for those suffering from urinary incontinence, and it should not to be ignored. Most urinary incontinence can be easily treated, resulting in an improved quality of life.