Urinary incontinence — the loss of bladder control — is a common and often embarrassing problem. The severity 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 daily activities, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. For most people, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or stop urinary incontinence.
Some people experience occasional, minor leaks of urine. Others wet their clothes frequently.
Types of urinary incontinence include:
You may feel uncomfortable discussing incontinence with your doctor. But if incontinence is frequent or is affecting your quality of life, it’s important to seek medical advice because urinary incontinence may:
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.
Certain drinks, foods and medications can act as diuretics — stimulating your bladder and increasing your volume of urine. They include:
Urinary incontinence can also be a persistent condition caused by underlying physical problems or changes, including:
Factors that increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence include:
Complications of chronic urinary incontinence include:
If you have urinary incontinence, you’re likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in urinary tract disorders (urologist), or if you’re a woman, a gynecologist with special training in female bladder problems and urinary function (urogynecologist).
To get ready for your appointment, it helps to:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
It’s important to determine the type of urinary incontinence that you have. That information will guide treatment decisions.
Your doctor is likely to start with a thorough history and physical exam. You may then be asked to do a simple maneuver that can demonstrate incontinence: close your mouth, pinch your nose shut and exhale hard.
After that, your doctor will likely recommend:
If further information is needed, your doctor may recommend:
Treatment for urinary incontinence depends on the type of incontinence, its severity and the underlying cause. A combination of treatments may be needed. Your doctor is likely to suggest the least invasive treatments first and move on to other options only if these techniques fail.
Your doctor may recommend:
Your doctor may recommend that you do these exercises frequently to strengthen the muscles that help control urination. Also known as Kegel exercises, these techniques are especially effective for stress incontinence but may also help urge incontinence.
To do pelvic floor muscle exercises, imagine that you’re trying to stop your urine flow. Then:
Electrodes are temporarily inserted into your rectum or vagina to stimulate and strengthen pelvic floor muscles. Gentle electrical stimulation can be effective for stress incontinence and urge incontinence, but you may need multiple treatments over several months.
Medications commonly used to treat incontinence include:
Devices designed to treat women with incontinence include:
Interventional therapies that may help with incontinence include:
If other treatments aren’t working, several surgical procedures can treat the problems that cause urinary incontinence:
If medical treatments can’t completely eliminate your incontinence, you can try products that help ease the discomfort and inconvenience of leaking urine:
Problems with urine leakage may require you to take extra care to prevent skin irritation:
There are no alternative medicine therapies that have been proved to cure urinary incontinence. Initial pilot studies have shown that acupuncture can provide some short-term benefit, but more research is needed.
If you’re embarrassed about a bladder control problem, you may try to cope on your own by wearing absorbent pads, carrying extra clothes or even avoiding going out.
But effective treatments are available for urinary incontinence. It’s important to ask your doctor about treatment. You’ll be on your way to regaining an active and confident life.
Urinary incontinence isn’t always preventable. However, to help decrease your risk: