Health Topic

Urinary Incontinence

Have you ever had a sudden leak when you laugh, cough or sneeze? You’re not alone. In fact, unexpected leaks and dribbles are a common experience, regardless of age. Learn how to manage incontinence whether you’re at home or on the go.

Three friends have a chat over cups of coffee.

Understanding Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. As you age, many of your muscles begin to weaken — including the muscles in charge of the bladder. When this happens, you can have unexpected urine leakage.

The different types of incontinence. 

Different types of incontinence have different symptoms.

  • Urge incontinence is when the bladder muscles are too active. This causes frequent urges to urinate, even when the bladder isn’t full.
  • Stress incontinence is when there’s stress (from a cough, sneeze, lifting an object, etc.) on the bladder. This overrides the valve muscles, resulting in leakage.
  • Overflow incontinence is when you have the urge to urinate but can release only a small amount. Your bladder doesn’t empty as it should and gets too full. It then leaks urine later, even though you feel no urge to urinate.
  • Mixed incontinence refers to having symptoms of more than one of the types of incontinence listed. 
  • Functional incontinence occurs when your bladder works normally, but you’re unable to access the toilet in time.

Why it’s important to talk to your doctor. 

Incontinence can be an early warning sign of other health issues. Even if it’s not the sign of something more serious, incontinence can interfere with your quality of life. It can also increase your risk of falling if you’re rushing to the bathroom. Your doctor can help identify the cause of incontinence and may be able to help you reduce your symptoms. 

Incontinence can be a sign of something more serious.

While incontinence itself isn’t a disease, it can be a symptom of a medical condition. 

  • Diabetes is often associated with obesity and nerve damage, both of which can cause incontinence. Certain diabetes medications can also contribute to incontinence.
  • Heart failure can increase fluid retention during the day when you’re upright. Then, when you lay down at night, this fluid can cause frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • An enlarged prostate can put pressure on the urethra and bladder, leading to incontinence in men. 

How a voiding diary can help you.

Using a voiding diary is a great way to track fluid intake and output. It will also help your doctor diagnose your condition. All you need to do is record the following:

  1. The time (mark a.m. or p.m.)
  2. The liquids you drank
  3. How much you consumed (1 cup, 2 glasses, etc.)
  4. The amount you urinated (a dribble, a little, a lot)
  5. What activity were you doing at the time (resting, sneezing, running)
  6. Any leakages or sudden urges (damp, wet, soaked)

Help Prevent or Minimize Urinary Incontinence

Anything that irritates your bladder can increase the symptoms of urinary incontinence. Think about what steps you could take to help protect your bladder and reduce your symptoms.

Could you lose excess weight?

Extra weight can put extra pressure on your bladder.

Could you avoid smoking?

Smoking can irritate your lungs, which can increase coughing. Coughing also puts extra pressure on the bladder.

Could you avoid certain foods?

Citrus fruits, chocolate, tomatoes, vinegar, dairy products and spicy foods can irritate your bladder. So can foods that contain the artificial sweetener, aspartame.

Could you cut down on certain liquids?

Be sure to stay hydrated, but drinking too much can trigger incontinence. This is especially true of alcohol, caffeine, and diet sodas (which contain aspartame.)

With a little preparation, you can feel more confident whether you’re home or on the go.

What can you do at home?

  • Wear clothing that’s easy to remove
  • Wear incontinence underclothing or pads
  • Clear an easy path to your toilet
  • Keep a bedpan or portable commode close to your bed

What can you do when you’re on the go?

  • Hydrate at home and drink less when you’re out (especially when it comes to alcohol and caffeine)
  • Look for the restroom before you need it
  • Carry extra pads and underclothes in a bag or purse

Urinary Incontinence Knowledge Check

Incontinence can be difficult to fully understand, but you probably already know more than you think. Test your knowledge with our quick trivia quiz.

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