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What Is Incontinence And Its Causes

May 31, 2008
Incontinence is not a disease, but actually a symptom of an underlying health problem. Unmanaged, it can lead to isolation, stigmatization, embarrassment, and even feelings of depression. The good news is that it can always be effectively managed, and very often cured.

Urinary incontinence, simply speaking, means a loss of bladder control. If you leak urine (pee) when you laugh, cough, or sneeze, or experience sudden and strong urges to go to the bathroom, you have urinary incontinence. It is far more common than you might think.

Today, in Canada, approximately 3.3 million adults have incontinence - and this includes people in their 20s through to their 60s; it doesn't just affect the elderly.

There are many things that can cause loss of bladder control. It can sometimes result from a urinary tract infection, constipation, taking certain medications, a stroke, or an enlarged prostate. Depending on the cause, and there are many, urinary incontinence can be either temporary or ongoing. And it is not a normal part of aging.

If you are experiencing incontinence, or care for someone who has it, you know that it can cause feelings of frustration and embarrassment. Fear of urine leakage can impact your lifestyle, and your relationships. But it doesn't have to.

You can take charge of your condition by finding out more about the causes of and treatments for incontinence here, and then talking to your doctor. There is no need for you to suffer in silence.

n your body, the urinary tract consists of your kidneys (where the urine is formed), bladder (where urine is collected and stored), and tubes that connect it all to the outside. Many things can cause loss of bladder control - or incontinence. Incontinence can be temporary or ongoing.

There are risk factors for incontinence, many of which you can control. For example maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and reducing your caffeine and alcohol consumption all reduce the risk of incontinence.

Being overweight, and particularly being obese (a BMI greater than 30), causes a constant strain on your bladder and the surrounding muscles. This in turn can result in urine leakage, for example when you cough or sneeze.

Smoking increases the risk of developing incontinence because it can lead to the development of a chronic cough, which in turn strains the urinary sphincter - the muscle that keeps urine in.

Caffeine and alcohol consumption increase the risk for incontinence because they are diuretics, which cause the bladder to fill rapidly, triggering an urgent need to urinate.

Activities such as jogging can also contribute to incontinence, particularly in women, because they put pressure on the bladder, causing temporary urine leakage.

Other risk factors include gender - women are twice as likely as men to experience incontinence because conditions such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are all contributing risk factors for incontinence. Women also have a shorter urethra (tube from the bladder to outside).

Advancing age also increases your risk for incontinence - although it is not a condition associated with normal aging. It can result from a weakening of the bladder and muscles surrounding the bladder.

Stress incontinence is by far the most common type of incontinence, and it can almost certainly be cured, if not effectively treated.

Stress incontinence refers to bladder leakage resulting from weak pelvic muscles. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, or any movement that causes stress or pressure on the bladder can cause stress-related urine leakage. Unlike urge incontinence, stress incontinence is not accompanied by an urge to urinate. Stress incontinence typically affects more women than men.

Like stress incontinence, urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder, can be very effectively managed. It is caused by damaged nerves sending signals to the bladder to contract, even when the bladder isn't full.

This results in an urgent and frequent need to urinate, typically eight or more times during a 24-hour period. Frequent nighttime urinating is also a symptom of urge incontinence and is defined as waking with a need to urinate two or more times during the night. Although urge incontinence is the most common type of incontinence in the elderly, it is not considered a normal part of aging.

With overflow incontinence, you may feel as if your bladder is always partly full. And you may urinate only in small amounts or dribble urine. This is caused by an inability to completely empty the bladder so it overflows, which results in urine leakage. It is often reported by people with blocked urethras, or bladder damage.

It is the second-most-common form of incontinence in men. As with stress and urge incontinence, there are a number of options available to help you regain control.

Some people with urge incontinence also experience stress incontinence and visa versa; but this doesn't mean that the causes are necessarily related. Your healthcare professional can help you determine the causes and best course of action.
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