Urinary incontinence or loss of bladder control is the involuntary leakage of urine. This condition is more commonly seen in elderly individuals and women. The severity of the condition can range from occasional mild leakage of urine to more frequent leakage of moderate amounts of urine.
Symptoms of urinary incontinence include:
- Leakage of small amounts of urine during activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects. This is known as stress incontinence.
- Sudden intense urge to urinate followed by involuntary loss of urine. This is known as urge incontinence.
- Constant dribbling of urine due to incomplete emptying of the bladder. This is known as overflow incontinence.
- Loss of urine due to a physical or mental disability that may prevent you from going to the toilet on time. This is known as functional incontinence.
- A combination of symptoms such as stress and urge incontinence is known as mixed incontinence.
Causes of urinary incontinence include:
- Age-related changes in bladder function
- Prostate enlargement
- Urinary tract infection
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Certain foods, drinks, or medications including alcohol, caffeine, and blood pressure medications
- Neurological disorders
Some of the risk factors for urinary incontinence include:
- Age: Older individuals have a higher risk for involuntary loss of urine.
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk of developing stress-related urinary incontinence.
- Being Overweight: Being obese or overweight puts extra pressure on the urinary bladder.
- Smoking: Smoking tends to irritate the bladder and increases frequency of urination.
- Family History: If a close family member is diagnosed with urinary incontinence, you have a higher risk of developing the condition.
If left untreated, urinary incontinence could cause:
- Skin rashes and sores from skin breakdown
- Urinary tract infections
- Negative impact on your social life
Urinary incontinence may be prevented by:
- Maintaining a healthy bodyweight
- Avoiding bladder irritants such as caffeine, acidic foods, and smoking
- Eating more fiber-rich foods
- Performing pelvic floor exercises called Kegel exercises
Urinary incontinence may be diagnosed based on:
- Evaluation of symptoms
- Physical exam which includes performing simple maneuvers such as coughing to stimulate urine leakage
- X-ray or ultrasound to look for changes in bladder position
- Cystoscopy, which involves placing a lighted tube with a camera inside the urinary tract to look for abnormalities.
- Cystourethrogram, which is an X-ray of your urethra and bladder taken while urinating
The various treatment options for urinary incontinence include:
- Behavioral modifications such as timed urination or bladder training
- Pelvic floor exercises
- Dietary changes
- Medical devices such as a pessary in women to improve bladder control, or catheter to help empty the bladder in men
- Surgeries such as sling procedures, bladder neck suspension, prolapse surgery, and artificial urinary sphincter placement.
Urinary incontinence can be an embarrassing problem that is often seen in the elderly and women. Simple dietary and lifestyle changes along with medical intervention can usually treat the condition and improve your quality of life.