Causes & Treatment for Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence may be uncomfortable or embarrassing to talk about, it’s a serious issue deserving medical attention. The Urology Care Foundation reports this condition affects millions of Americans every day — from a quarter to one-third of the population.
While many perceive urinary incontinence to be a part of aging, the truth is it can affect people of all age groups and walks of life. It can stem from underlying medical issues and result in lasting emotional or psychological problems. However, it can be treated if you reach out to your physician.
What causes urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence presents itself in a few different ways. These can include:
- Stress incontinence: This is when urine leaks as pressure is put on the bladder. This can occur during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing, or heavy lifting. It is the most common type of incontinence for younger to middle-aged women and may begin around menopause.
- Urge incontinence: This is when patients have the sudden urge to urinate but cannot reach the restroom in time. Urge incontinence may be a problem for people with diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a history of strokes.
- Overflow incontinence: This is when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that’s always full. Men, for example, may have trouble emptying their bladders if the prostate is blocking the urethra. This can be caused by diabetes and spinal cord injuries.
- Functional incontinence: This occurs in older patients who have normal bladder function but have trouble reaching the restroom in time because of diseases or conditions that restrict their movement.
Urinary incontinence can have many root causes. For men, an enlarged or inflamed prostate can put pressure on the bladder, making it unable to hold urine or void completely. Weak or overactive bladder muscles and weak pelvic floor muscles can also inhibit one’s ability to control the flow of urine from the bladder.
In some cases, medical conditions such as arthritis can limit a patient’s ability to move, making it difficult to reach a bathroom when the need to urinate arises.
Thankfully, people with urinary incontinence have several different ways to manage this condition. One method people often try is pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises. These strengthen the muscles in the pelvic floor that control the bladder and allow patients to better control their bodily functions.
Timed voiding, or urinating on a set schedule, can also help patients regain control and strength by allowing them to space out trips to the bathroom and even allow patients to slowly increase the amount of time between trips. The use of biofeedback tools can also give patients a better understanding of the signals from their bodies and gradually regain control over the muscles.
Several lifestyle changes can also affect how urinary incontinence affects patients. These can include:
- Losing weight
- Avoiding or quitting smoking
- Limiting or eliminating alcohol
- Drinking less caffeine
- Preventing constipation
- Avoiding heavy lifting
- Drinking water instead of soft drinks
In extreme cases, medical intervention may be an option, including medicines that help empty the bladder more, applications that thicken the area around the urethra, or nerve stimulation with a mild electrical current. For women, doctors may apply a low dose of an estrogen vaginal cream or use a medical device like a urethral insert. For men, surgery may be an option if an enlarged or inflamed prostate is the cause of the incontinence.
Although urinary incontinence affects millions of Americans, talking about it with your urologist can yield several different treatment options, allowing you to live your life normally.