Urinary incontinence happens when one loses control of his or her bladder. In some cases, the bladder’s contents are completely empty, in other cases, there might be only some leakage.
The condition may be temporary or chronic, depending on its cause. According to the Urological Care Foundation, millions of adults in the United States experience urinary incontinence.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it’s more common among women aged 50 and above but it can affect anyone.
As you age, the muscles supporting your bladder tend to weaken, which can lead to urinary incontinence.
Many different health problems can also cause the condition. Symptoms can be mild or severe. It could also be a sign of cancer, kidney stones, infection or an enlarged prostate.
If you experience urinary incontinence, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Urinary incontinence can interfere with your daily life and can be challenging. Your healthcare provider can also determine if a more serious medical condition is the cause.
Urinary incontinence is divided into three general types. You can potentially experience more than one type at the same time.
Stress incontinence is triggered by certain types of physical activity. For example, you might lose control of your bladder when you are exercising, coughing, sneezing and laughing.
Such activities put stress on the sphincter muscle that holds urine in your bladder. The added stress can cause the muscle to release urine
Urge incontinence occurs when you lose control of your bladder after experiencing a sudden and strong urge to urinate. Once that urge hits, you may not be able to make it to the bathroom.
Overflow Incontinence can occur if you don’t completely empty your bladder when you urinate. Later, some of the remaining urine may leak from your bladder. This type of incontinence is sometimes called ‘dribbling’.
There are many potential causes of urinary incontinence. Examples include weakened bladder muscles, resulting from aging, physical damage to your pelvic floor muscles, Prostate enlargement and Prostate cancer.
Some of these conditions are easily treatable and only cause temporary urinary problems. Others are more serious and persistent.
As you get older, the muscles supporting your bladder typically become weaker, which raises your risk for incontinence.
To maintain strong muscles and a healthy bladder, it’s important to practice a healthy lifestyle. The healthier you are, the better your chances of avoiding incontinence as you age.
Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder. Damage to these muscles can cause incontinence. It can also be caused by certain types of surgery, such as a hysterectomy. It’s also a common result of pregnancy and childbirth.
If you are male, your prostate gland surrounds the neck of your bladder. This gland releases fluid that protects and nourishes your sperm. It tends to enlarge with age. It’s common for males to experience some incontinence as a result.
Prostate or bladder cancer can cause incontinence. In some cases, treatments for cancer can also make it harder for you to control your bladder. Even benign tumours can cause incontinence by blocking your flow of urine.
Other potential causes of incontinence are constipation, urinary tract infections, kidney or bladder stones, prostatitis or inflammation of your prostate or a chronic condition that causes inflammation within your bladder and side effects from certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, muscle relaxants, sedatives and some heart medications.
Some lifestyle factors can also cause temporary bouts of incontinence. For example, drinking too much alcohol, caffeinated beverages or other fluids can cause you to temporarily lose control of your bladder.
When to seek medical help
Any instance of incontinence is reason to seek medical help. It may be a symptom of a more serious condition that needs to be treated.
Even if the underlying cause isn’t serious, incontinence can be a major disruption in your life. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider.
In some cases, incontinence is a sign of a medical emergency.
You should seek immediate medical attention if you lose control of your bladder and experience any of the following symptoms, trouble speaking or walking, weakness or tingling in any part of your body, loss of vision, confusion, loss of consciousness and loss of bowel control.
What to expect at your healthcare provider’s appointment
During your appointment, your healthcare provider will likely ask questions about your symptoms. They will probably want to know how long you’ve been incontinent, which types of incontinence you have experienced, etc.
They may also ask about your daily habits, including your typical diet and any medications or supplements that you take.
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, your healthcare provider may order additional tests, including checking the urine sample for signs of infection or other problems; measuring the amount of urine that you release when urinating, the amount left over in your bladder, and the pressure in your bladder. This information is gathered by inserting a catheter or a small tube into your urethra and your bladder; conducting a cystoscopy. During this test they’ll insert a small camera into your bladder to examine it up close.
What your treatment will involve
Your healthcare provider’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your incontinence.
An underlying medical condition may require medication, surgery or other treatments.You may also be encouraged to do certain exercises, such as pelvic floor exercises or bladder training, which can help to increase your bladder control.
In certain situations, your healthcare provider may not be able to cure your bladder incontinence. In these cases, there are steps you can take to manage your condition.
For example, your healthcare provider may advise you to adjust your diet or fluid intake, maintain a clear and well-lit path to the bathroom, use absorbent undergarments or pads and take scheduled bathroom breaks.
You can’t prevent all cases of urinary incontinence but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it. Living a healthy lifestyle is key.
For example, try to maintain your healthy weight, get plenty of exercise, eat a balanced diet, limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption and avoid smoking.
The writer is a pharmacognosist, Chief Medical Officer and CEO of the Medi Moses Group of Companies.
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