According to the National Association for Continence (NAFC), urinary incontinence affects 200 million people worldwide. 25 million adult Americans experience transient or chronic urinary incontinence. NAFC also estimates that 75-80% of those sufferers are women.
Incontinence refers to the involuntary lack of bladder and bowel movement. Urinary incontinence (UI) is an under-treated condition that is erroneously thought to be a normal part of aging. The WHO said that incontinence is “certainly not an inevitable consequence of aging,” adding that “the most typical reaction exhibited by patients when they are diagnosed with poor bladder control was not fear nor disbelief, but relief”. Incontinence also involves the loss of control over bowel movements, it is called fecal incontinence.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are different degrees of urinary incontinence, from mild leaking while laughing or severe urges that don’t wait till the person gets to a bathroom. This could also be a result of childbirth and menopause in women, and a removal of the prostate in men.
Stress incontinence is observed in cases of sneezing, coughing, laughing and picking up heavy things. It occurs when the sphincter muscle in the bladder is weak and can’t control the urine. Stress incontinence is a result of physical and not mental stress. A sphincter muscle is a circular muscle that normally maintains the constriction of a natural body passage or orifice, and relaxes as required by normal physiological functioning.
When you have a sudden urge to urinate and cannot control it even long enough to run to a bathroom, you’re suffering from urge incontinence. The bladder in this case only gives the person a few seconds notice and then loses control. It can be caused by a urinary tract infection, bladder irritation, bowel problems or even nervous disorders like multiple sclerosis, Spina bifida, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or even stroke or injuries. It is also called an overactive bladder.
When the bladder cannot empty itself completely, it leads to an overflowing bladder. This in turn leads to a continuous dribbling of urine. This is common among women who have a damaged bladder or in men with prostate problems. It may be caused due to diabetic neuropathy or a spinal cord injury.
As the name suggests, if a person has more than one type, like stress and urge together, then the person is said to be suffering from mixed incontinence. Medical conditions, such as thyroid problems and diabetes (that is not under medical observation), and medications such as diuretics could be a cause of mixed incontinence.
This type has more to do with the loss of bodily functions and mostly plagues the aged. Though it is predominantly associated with the aged, this type of incontinence could also affect the people suffering from paralysis or people with physical disability.
You experienced it when you were young, and saw it happen to your kids. Commonly known as bedwetting, it refers to involuntary urination at night. Though this is mostly observed in children, there could be rare cases where it could affect adults too. NAFC statistics show that as many as two percent to three percent of adults experience bedwetting problems.
Gross Total Incontinence
In this type of incontinence, the bladder cannot perform any of its functions. This could be because of several reasons like injury, birth defect or a bladder capacity problem.
Fecal Incontinence involves loss of control of bowel movement, leading to an unconscious passing of feces or stool. The probable causes are diarrhea, constipation, anal sphincter damage, weakness of the sphincter muscle or childbirth complications in women. A prominent symptom is uncontrolled passing of gas, stools and liquid from bowels.
Based on the type of incontinence, the doctor will advice certain treatments. A few suggestions would be to reduce caffeine intake, consuming at least two liters of water everyday and of course, and losing weight. Some other options are:
Pelvic Floor Muscle Training
A specialist doctor will assess whether the patient is able to contract (squeeze) his/her pelvic floor muscles and by how much. Accordingly, the doctor will prescribe an individual exercise program. It should generally include
- Doing a minimum of eight muscle contractions at least three times a day.
- Doing these exercises for at least three months.
- Continuing with these exercise after three months if they prove beneficial.
If a patient is unable to contract his/her pelvic floor muscles, using a device that measures and stimulates the electrical signals in the muscles may be recommended. This is called electrical stimulation. A small probe will be inserted into the vagina in women, or the anus in men. A small electric current is passed through the probe, which strengthens the pelvic floor muscles.
Vaginal cones may be used to assist strengthening of pelvic floor muscles. Vaginal cones are small weights that are inserted into the vagina. The patient holds the weights in place using her pelvic floor muscles. When possible, the patient progress to the next vaginal cone with a higher weight.
Bladder training involves learning techniques to increase the length of time between feeling the need to urinate and passing urine. The course will usually last for at least six weeks. If the patient has any problems with his/her memory, for example dementia, he/she may be given specific training to prevent leakages. This may involve a care-giver reminding the patient to use the toilet at set times.
Remember, incontinence is not any form of a disease; it can in fact be classified as a symptom of any other condition. It is essential to understand that incontinence is notattributed to aging. So, seek help immediately if you do suffer from the same.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.