A doctor shows a lady a urinary incontinence product

A comprehensive understanding of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the inability to stop leaking urine. Incontinence is embarrassing because it interferes with a normal and fulfilling life. But there are several ways to control it. This article explains the different types of incontinence as well as management and treatment options. Urinary incontinence is common, and if you have trouble controlling your bladder, you’re not alone. Bladder incontinence is a common problem that affects millions of Americans. Incontinence can rob you of sleep and leave you exhausted. It can make travel awkward and prevent you from enjoying physical activity. Despite these setbacks, less than half of incontinence sufferers seek help. Many feel embarrassed, while others don’t realize that help is available.

A doctor shows a lady a urinary incontinence product
A doctor shows a lady a urinary incontinence product

Types of Incontinence

There are different types of urinary incontinence: impulsivity (also known as bladder overactivity), stress, and overflow. You may only have one type. Or you may have urge incontinence with other types (mixed incontinence). All people with urinary incontinence have problems controlling their bladder. But each type of incontinence has its own signs and symptoms. You can determine your type by comparing these typical patterns.

People with URGE INCONTINENCE or OVERACTIVE BLADDER may:

  • Wet themselves if they don’t get to a bathroom immediately
  • Get up frequently during the night to urinate
  • Go to the bathroom at least every two hours
  • Feel they have a weak bladder. Each drink of coffee, cola, or alcohol seems to cause urination out of proportion to the amount they actually drink
  • Wet the bed at night

People with STRESS INCONTINENCE may:

  • Leak urine when they cough, sneeze, or laugh
  • Go to the bathroom more frequently in order to avoid accidents
  • Avoid exercise because they are afraid it will cause leaks
  • Sleep through the night, but leak upon getting up from bed in the morning
  • Sometimes leak urine when they get up from a chair

People with OVERFLOW INCONTINENCE may:

  • Get up frequently during the night to urinate
  • Take a long time to urinate and have a weak, dribbling stream with no force
  • Urinate small amounts and not feel completely empty afterward
  • Dribble urine throughout the day
  • Feel the urge to urinate, but sometimes can’t

When You are Continent

Continence means you have control of your bladder. You can choose to hold your pee. For instance, you might be in a situation where it’s not convenient to go to the bathroom. Even if your brain gets the message that your bladder is full and you feel the urge to urinate, you can consciously tell your system to wait until it’s convenient.

When You are Incontinent

Urinary incontinence is the loss of control of the bladder. It happens when any part of the urinary system doesn’t work properly. Both men and women may develop an overactive bladder, stress incontinence, overflow incontinence, or mixed incontinence. Women are more likely to develop urinary incontinence than men because their internal organs are structurally different and infertile. Pregnancy, childbirth, and a drop in estrogen levels in women can weaken pelvic floor muscles, leading to the displacement of organs such as the bladder, urethra, and uterus (prolapse). This can lead to urinary incontinence and a feeling of stress or something is slipping off. Men have fewer incontinence problems because the shape of the male urethra and the longer urethra provide more support.

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