Urinary incontinence — the loss of bladder control — is a common and often embarrassing problem. The severity of urinary incontinence ranges from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that's so sudden and strong you don't get to a toilet in time.
If urinary incontinence affects your day-to-day activities, don't hesitate to see your doctor. In most cases, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease your discomfort or stop urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the release of urine from your bladder. Some people experience occasional, minor leaks — or dribbles — of urine. Others wet their clothes frequently.
Types of urinary incontinence include:
When to see a doctor
Urinary incontinence isn't a disease, it's a symptom. It can be caused by everyday habits, underlying medical conditions or physical problems. A thorough evaluation by your doctor can help determine what's behind your incontinence.
Causes of temporary urinary incontinence
Easily treatable medical conditions also may be responsible for urinary incontinence.
Causes of persistent urinary incontinence
Female urinary system
Your bladder stores urine produced by your kidneys and expels it through a tube called the urethra. In women, the urethral opening is above the vagina. ...
Male urinary system
Your bladder stores urine produced by your kidneys and expels it through a tube called the urethra. In men, the urethral opening is at the tip of the penis. ...
These factors increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence:
Complications of chronic urinary incontinence include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you have urinary incontinence, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a urologist or a urogynecologist if you are a woman.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For urinary incontinence, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Common tests and processes for urinary incontinence include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for urinary incontinence depends on the type of incontinence, the severity of your problem and the underlying cause. Your doctor will recommend the approaches best suited to your condition. A combination of treatments may be needed.
In most cases, your doctor will suggest the least invasive treatments first, so you'll try behavioral techniques and physical therapy first and move on to other options only if these techniques fail.
Some of the commonly used procedures include:
Absorbent pads and catheters
Pelvic floor muscles
Your pelvic floor muscles comprise several layers of muscle attached to the front, back and sides of your pelvic bone. These muscles help control urination. ...
Sacral nerve stimulation
During sacral nerve stimulation, a surgically implanted device delivers electrical impulses to the nerves (sacral nerves) that regulate bladder activity. The unit is placed beneath the skin of the ...
A sling is a piece of human or animal tissue or a synthetic tape that a surgeon places to support the bladder neck and urethra. Two sling techniques are shown — the retropubic and ...
Bladder neck suspension
Bladder neck suspension surgery adds support to the bladder neck and urethra, reducing the risk of stress incontinence. The Burch procedure involves placing sutures in vaginal tissue near the neck of ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
Protecting your skin
Making the toilet more convenient
If you have functional incontinence, possible changes may include:
There are no alternative medicine therapies that have been proven to cure urinary incontinence. Some treatments, such as hypnotherapy, magnetic stimulation and reflexology, have been tried, but there is no definitive evidence that any of these therapies can help reduce symptoms. One therapy that has shown some promise in reducing the symptoms of urinary incontinence is acupuncture. However, more research is needed before it can be recommended as a treatment.
Coping and support
If you're embarrassed about having a bladder control problem, you may try to cope on your own — wearing absorbent pads, carrying extra clothes, avoiding going out. You may even cut back on drinking liquids — and risk dehydration — to avoid wetting episodes.
But there are better ways to manage urinary incontinence, and effective treatments are available. That's why it's important to see your doctor and ask about treatment. You'll be on your way to regaining an active and confident life — and control of your bladder.
Urinary incontinence is not always preventable. However, you may be able to decrease your risk of incontinence with these steps:
Last Updated: 2011-06-25
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