What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary Incontinence affects millions of adults across the U.S, upsetting their daily activities and their abilities to live lives that feel “normal.” But, thanks in no small part to the shame and stigma surrounding incontinence, a huge number (up to 70%, some studies suggest) never seek help for the issue or become educated about their condition.
That’s a shame, because understanding what causes urinary incontinence, the symptoms people can experience, and ways to treat the condition can significantly improve daily quality of life for anyone living with incontinence.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Simply put, urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine or loss of bladder control. This can range from occasional small leaks of urine to full, involuntary emptying of the bladder. It is typically categorized into five incontinence types: Overflow incontinence, urge incontinence, stress incontinence, functional incontinence, and mixed incontinence.
Overflow Incontinence, sometimes called urinary retention or dribbling, occurs when one’s bladder doesn’t empty completely while urinating. Because the bladder doesn’t completely empty, small amounts of urine will leak out later.
Urge incontinence happens when someone experiences the sudden, often uncontrollable urge to urinate. Because the bladder contracts when it shouldn’t, urine can leak from the bladder even when the patient is trying to “hold it.” Urge incontinence is often referred to as overactive bladder, irritable bladder, or bladder spasms.
Stress Incontinence is occurs when pressure placed on the bladder or abdomen results in urine leakage. “Stress” does not refer to the emotion, but rather physical stress such laughing, sneezing, coughing, exercising, sex, or other physical activities.
Unlike the other forms of urinary incontinence mentioned, mixed incontinence occurs not due to physical issues with the bladder but because a physical or mental impairment prevents a person from using a toilet to relieve themselves.
Mixed incontinence is when a patient experiences two or more of the above-mentioned forms of incontinence at once.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is not a disease or illness that occurs on its own; it’s a symptom of other underlying medical issues, physical ailments, or conditions. If you’re experiencing any form of urinary incontinence, you should consult a medical professional to determine what may be contributing to the issue.
Dietary-related Urinary Incontinence Causes
You may experience temporary overactive bladder or urinary incontinence if you consume drinks, food, or medicine that acts as a diuretic. These diuretics can stimulate the bladder, making it temporarily difficult or impossible to control bladder functions:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Spicy foods
- Highly acidic foods
- Vitamin C in high doses
- Muscle relaxants
Blood pressure or heart medications
Treatable/Temporary Urinary Incontinence Causes
You could also experience temporary forms of urinary incontinence due to temporary illness or conditions, such as Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) or Constipation.
Urinary Tract Infection Incontinence: Infections can irritate your bladder and make it difficult to hold your urine, resulted in temporary incontinence. This is easily treatable with antibiotics.
Incontinence from Constipation: Because the rectum shares many of the same nerves as the bladder, severe constipation could place pressure on these nerves and result in overactive bladder or urine frequency.
Persistent/Chronic Urinary Incontinence Causes
More long-term urinary incontinence is often the result of chronic or persistent issues or medical conditions.
Aging: As we grow older, our bladder muscles age, sometimes leading in a lessened capacity to store and hold urine and making involuntary bladder contractions more frequent. Those experiencing incontinence from aging should speak with their physicians about exercises and treatments to strengthen the bladder.
Pregnancy and Childbirth: Hormonal changes and pressure placed on the body from the fetus during pregnancy can lead to stress incontinence. After childbirth, damage to pelvic floor muscles, nerves, and supportive tissue can result in loss of bladder control. Women can also experience a prolapsed, or “dropped,” pelvic floor, in which the uterus, small intestine, rectum, and/or bladder can drop down into the vagina. Incontinence is a common symptom of pelvic floor prolapse, and there are both surgical and non-surgical options to treat the issue.
Menopause: The decrease in produced estrogen as women experience menopause can lead to deterioration of certain tissues in the urethra and bladder, as estrogen supports the health of those organs. Exercises, dietary changes, and other treatment options can all help manage this form of UI, and you should speak with your doctor to determine the right course of action for you.
Prostate Issues: Enlargement of the prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia) can lead to inability to control bladder function or other forms of UI. Similarly, men with prostate cancer can experience incontinence.
Surgery: If a woman has surgery involving her reproductive situation, such as a hysterectomy, she may experience tissue damage that leads to incontinence as she heals.
Tumors and Stones: Any form of tumor or urinary stone that creates an obstruction in the urinary tract can cause incontinence.
Medical conditions: A number of medical conditions can lead to UI. Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis can affect nerves that control the bladder. What’s more, other medical conditions that affect a person’s mobility can lead to functional incontinence.
Should you go to a doctor?
Anyone experiencing a form of Urinary Incontinence should seek out the advice of a medical professional. Not only can a doctor help you determine the true cause of your incontinence and address the issue, they can also work with you to determine treatment and management options that work for you.
Urinary Incontinence Treatment
Treatment for UI may include:
- Kegel exercises: Exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
- Bladder training: A program designed by a physician to help a patient gain control of their bladder
- Medication: Some forms of incontinence can be treated with medications
- Medical devices and surgery: There are a number of medical procedures available to both men and women with incontinence.