What is incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the accidental, involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder. It can affect people of all ages. Many Australians experience bladder control problems including an increase in frequency or urgency without any leakage. The condition mostly affects women, but it can also affect men and typically becomes more frequent when you reach your 50s. The causes of the condition depend on which type of incontinence you are suffering from. Stress incontinence happens when the pelvic floor muscles become weakened, resulting in urine leakage. Urge incontinence is mainly caused by spasms within the bladder, which increase the need to urinate. Although incontinence problems have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life, many people do not seek help. Some people restrict going out and have little social contact outside their home.

Symptoms of incontinence

Incontinence problems are symptoms of bladder dysfunction. They tell you that something is not quite right. There are several causes of incontinence and these vary depending on the type of symptoms you are experiencing. Stress incontinence tends to happen when the urethra is not strong enough to stay closed under pressure, ie. (cough/sneeze/laugh). This may happen if your pelvic floor muscles have been weakened or if your urethral sphincter is not functioning properly. Urge incontinence is mainly caused by the over activity of the muscles in the wall of the bladder called detrusor muscles triggering sudden urges to pass urine. People with bladder control problems may experience:

  • leaking urine with coughs, sneezes or exercise
  • leaking urine on the way to the toilet
  • passing urine frequently
  • rushing to the toilet (urgency)
  • getting up twice or more at night to pass urine
  • wetting the bed when asleep
  • feeling their bladder is not completely empty
  • having poor urine flow
  • straining to get the bladder to empty
  • frequently having urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Treatment and management of incontinence

There are a number of ways to treat incontinence.  You should speak to your doctor to discuss your condition and the most appropriate treatment for you.  The treatments depend on the type of incontinence you have and what you hope to achieve. Like most urinary disorders, a healthy lifestyle can also reduce your risk of developing incontinence. An incontinence management plan will usually include several of:

  • adequate fluid intake of up to two litres (6 to 8 glasses) each day (your urine should be pale yellow in colour)
  • tone up your pelvic floor muscles with pelvic floor exercises for good bladder control
  • a bladder retraining program – going to the toilet to pass urine only when you have the urge to go – don’t go ‘just in case’
  • a toileting program – taking time to completely empty your bladder
  • medication
  • incontinence aids such as pads, condom drainage or catheters.Like most urinary disorders, a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing incontinence

Your doctor may prescribe medications called anti-muscarinics, which are specifically designed to relax the detrusor muscles in your bladder. By relaxing these muscles, anti-muscarinics make the bladder a more stable place, so that it can store urine more effectively.

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