Incontinence: Symptom of an underlying problem
Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine and is not really a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Medications, infection, blockages, surgery or mobility problems can cause short-term incontinence. Longer-term causes may include damage to the muscles or nerves that control the bladder.
The most common types of overactive bladder are:
May occur when the structures that help hold urine in the bladder become weak. Knowing why these changes occur can help you learn why you leak urine. In women, the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue may stretch, weaken or tear. Once this happens, they can’t support the urethra and bladder. If the urethra and bladder move out of place, urine can leak. Changes in the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue can be caused by:
- Pregnancy and vaginal delivery
- Constant coughing, such as with bronchitis or from smoking
- Being overweight
Symptoms of stress incontinence include leaks when you cough, sneeze, laugh or lift something heavy.
This occurs when your bladder feels full and pushes urine out, even when it’s almost empty. Urge incontinence can be caused by an infection, a nerve problem, surgery, or a growth in the bladder. The main symptom is a frequent, sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate.
This happens when your bladder never completely empties, which causes urine to leak.
Both stress and urge incontinence are present.
Treatment depends upon the type of incontinence. Symptoms, age and underlying health issues will also affect treatment. Lifestyle changes may be able to reduce episodes of incontinence. The changes include:
- Quitting smoking. Smoking can lead to a chronic cough that strains pelvic floor muscles. Smoking can also damage the bladder and urethra.
- Losing weight. Excess weight puts extra pressure on the bladder. Exercising and eating right can reduce this pressure and help treatments work better.
- Avoiding certain foods can help:
- Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics and bladder stimulants
- Carbonated drinks, tea and coffee, with or without caffeine, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup and foods that are high in spice, sugar and acid, which can aggravate your bladder
- Antibiotics, if the incontinence is caused by a urinary tract infection
- Medications to help the sphincter work better
- Medications that can help calm the bladder so it doesn’t contract as often
- Medications that can help the bladder muscles contract with more force or relax the sphincter muscles to allow urine flow
Some cases of incontinence can be treated with surgery. This may involve removing a blockage; placing a bladder sling; or implanting an artificial sphincter.