Urinary Incontinence / Bladder Control
Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It’s a common problem thought to affect millions of people.
There are several types of urinary incontinence, including:
Stress incontinence – when urine leaks out at times when your bladder is under pressure; for example, when you cough or laugh.
Urge incontinence – when urine leaks as you feel a sudden, intense urge to pass urine, or soon afterwards.
Overflow incontinence (chronic urinary retention) – when you’re unable to fully empty your bladder, which causes frequent leaking.
Total incontinence – when your bladder can’t store any urine at all, which causes you to pass urine constantly or have frequent leaking.
It’s also possible to have a mixture of both stress and urge urinary incontinence.
Causes of Urinary Incontinence
Stress incontinence is usually the result of the weakening of or damage to the muscles used to prevent urination, such as the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter. Urge incontinence is usually the result of over activity of the detrusor muscles, which control the bladder.
Overflow incontinence is often caused by an obstruction or blockage to your bladder, which prevents it emptying fully. Total incontinence may be caused by a problem with the bladder from birth, a spinal injury, or a bladder fistula.
Certain things can increase the chances of urinary incontinence developing, including:
- Pregnancy and vaginal birth
- A family history of incontinence
- Increasing age – although incontinence is not an inevitable part of ageing
Treating Urinary Incontinence
Initially, following measures can help to improve your symptoms:
Lifestyle changes – such as losing weight and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol
Pelvic floor exercises – exercising your pelvic floor muscles by squeezing them, taught by a specialist
Bladder training – where you learn ways to wait longer between needing to urinate and passing urine, guided by a specialist
You may also benefit from the use of incontinence products, such as absorbent pads and handheld urinals. Medication may be recommended if you’re still unable to manage your symptoms.
Surgery may also be considered. The specific procedures suitable for you will depend on the type of incontinence you have.
Surgical treatments for stress incontinence, such as tape or sling procedures, are used to reduce pressure on the bladder or strengthen the muscles that control urination.
Operations to treat urge incontinence include enlarging the bladder or implanting a device that stimulates the nerve that controls the detrusor muscles.
Preventing Urinary Incontinence
It’s not always possible to prevent urinary incontinence, but there are some steps you can take that may help reduce the chance of it developing.
- Controlling your weight
- Avoiding or cutting down on alcohol
- Keeping fit – in particular, ensuring that your pelvic floor muscles are strong
Being obese can increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence. You may therefore be able to lower your risk by maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and healthy eating.
Use the healthy weight calculator to see if you are a healthy weight for your height.
Depending on your particular bladder problem, your GP can advise you about the amount of fluids you should drink.
If you have urinary incontinence, cut down on alcohol and drinks containing caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola. These can cause your kidneys to produce more urine and irritate your bladder.
The recommended weekly limits for alcohol consumption are 14 units for men and women. A unit of alcohol is roughly half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.
If you have to urinate frequently during the night (nocturia), try drinking less in the hours before you go to bed. However, make sure you still drink enough fluids during the day.
Pelvic floor exercises
Being pregnant and giving birth can weaken the muscles that control the flow of urine from your bladder. If you’re pregnant, strengthening your pelvic floor muscles may help prevent urinary incontinence.