Whether you are caring for a patient, a loved one, or a parent with incontinence, knowing what to expect can help reduce stress and allow the person under your care to enjoy a better quality of life. According to the National Association for Continence, more than 33 million Americans suffer from urinary incontinence or other types of bladder conditions. This can often affect one’s emotional wellbeing as they no longer have full control over their bladder or rectal function. In addition, someone with incontinence might experience an overactive bladder or accidental bowel leakages more often, leaving them feeling self-conscious or embarrassed. Being aware of the important things to know about incontinence can help you and the person you are caring for better understand their condition and make the most out of available resources.
What Is Incontinence?
Incontinence is when a person loses bladder control and/or bowel control, resulting in involuntary leaks and soiling. Often, simple lifestyle and dietary changes can help improve incontinence and lead to more control over one’s urinary tract and gastrointestinal system. While anyone can experience incontinence, it most often occurs in women and people over the age of 65.
How Is It Different from Continence?
Incontinence is the opposite of continence, which is the ability to control one’s bowel and bladder movements. If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of incontinence, it is recommended to consult with a doctor to determine the type of incontinence and what kinds of medical care is necessary to treat the symptoms.
What are the Most Common Causes of Incontinence?
The most common causes of incontinence can range from the following:
- Weakened or overactive bladder muscles resulting to loss of control of the bladder
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles resulting to loss of control of bowel movements
- Damage to nerves that control bladder muscles from diseases including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes
- Poor physical mobility or cognitive impairment resulting to inability to reach toilet in time
- Taking certain prescribed medications that result to short-term incontinence as a side effect
What Causes Incontinence in Men?
Incontinence in men is often caused by prostate gland related issues, including:
- Blockage by an enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)
- Inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis)
- Damage to the nerves and muscles around the prostate
What Causes Incontinence in Women?
Incontinence in women is often caused by:
- Vaginal or bladder prolapse
Types of Incontinence
There are different types of incontinence - urge incontinence, stress incontinence, mixed incontinence, functional incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence, reflex incontinence, and bowel incontinence. Having any of these types of incontinence may get in the way of daily activities as urges to go to the bathroom may occur more often.
What are the Common Symptoms and Causes For Each Type of Incontinence?
- Common symptoms of urge incontinence include a sudden need to urinate with a large volume of urine loss, often referred to as an overactive bladder and can occur at any age
- Common causes of urge incontinence may be associated with an infection, diabetes, pelvic trauma, neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, along with pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause in women
- Common symptoms of stress incontinence include urinary leaks while sneezing, laughing, coughing, jumping, or lifting something heavy
- Common causes of stress incontinence include surgical trauma and radiation along with pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause in women
- Common symptoms of mixed incontinence include a combination of urge incontinence and stress incontinence
- Common causes of mixed incontinence include pelvic trauma, diabetes, neurologic diseases such as Parkinson;s disease and multiple sclerosis, along with pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause in women
- Common symptoms of overflow incontinence include frequent urine leaks due to insufficient emptying of the bladder, which may occur during coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting something heavy, or jumping
- Common causes of overflow incontinence include diabetes, neurological damage, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or an enlarged prostate
- Common symptoms of functional incontinence include loss of urine that is typically not associated with any disease or problems associated with the urinary system
- Common causes of functional incontinence include physical or cognitive impairment such as a head injury, Alzheimer’s disease, immobility, arthritis, or inability to unbutton one’s pants fast enough
- Common symptoms of reflex incontinence include involuntary emptying of the bladder when the bladder is full and contracts
- Common causes of reflex incontinence include spinal cord injury, typically above the T12 area of the spine
Bowel incontinence / Fecal Incontinence
- Common symptoms of bowel incontinence include the involuntary soiling, diarrhea, trouble passing stool, and constipation
- Common causes of fecal incontinence include damage to the muscles and nerve endings surrounding the anus, typically in women
How is Incontinence Treated? What Can Be Done for Incontinence?
There are several different kinds of treatment available depending on the type of incontinence. From lifestyle changes, diet changes, medications, nonsurgical treatments, to surgery to correct the urethra and pelvic floor, it is recommended to consult with a doctor to determine which of these treatments will work best.
How to Cure Incontinence Naturally?
Making the following lifestyle and diet changes can help treat symptoms of incontinence:
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
- Do daily pelvic floor exercises, also known as kegels exercises
- Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol
- Avoid smoking tobacco products
How to Improve Bladder Control? What is Bladder Control Training?
Bladder control can be improved by partaking in exercises to hold in urine for longer periods of time and pelvic floor exercises, also known as kegel exercises. By training the pelvic floor muscles and lengthening the time in between bathroom breaks, one can have better control over their bowel and bladder. Bladder training exercises can help someone with incontinence as they gain muscle memory over time and better manage their bladder and bowel movements. If a doctor suggests bladder control training exercises, remember to practice or encourage the person you are caring for to practice pelvic floor muscle exercises daily to help improve bladder control.
What Other Incontinence Treatments Are Available?
While it is recommended to try lifestyle changes and bladder control exercises before considering other treatment options, there are other incontinence treatments available that may help one’s condition. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Medications that help control bladder muscles (for stress or urge incontinence)
- Urethral inserts or pessary (for prolapsed bladder or vagina)
- Estrogen-containing vaginal cream (for women)
- Injections in the urethra ( for stress incontinence)
- Nerve stimulation
Be sure to consult your doctor about other incontinence treatment options to determine which may work best for your condition. These treatments may be effective but there is still a possibility that urine will leak out occasionally.
Best Products for Incontinence in the Elderly and Adults
There are a variety of products available that help manage incontinence. From adult briefs, reusable protective underwear, disposable bed pads, thin absorbent liners, to sanitary pads, these products can help absorb urine leaks. For the elderly and those with underlying illnesses, special skin cleansers and moisture barriers can help prevent skin rashes.
Coping and Support for Urinary Incontinence
Treatments for stress incontinence can often substantially reduce, and possibly eliminate, urine leakage. Some people will still have urine leakage every now and then. Being prepared for this possibility may help you cope and manage the symptoms in your day to day life. Here are a few ideas to make urinary incontinence management easier to handle:
- Maintaining your connection with family, friends and co-workers can prevent feelings of isolation and depression that can accompany incontinence.
- Stock up on supplies. Take along sufficient incontinence pads or protective undergarments and possibly a change of clothes. Incontinence products are discreet and can be stowed in a roomy purse or a small backpack. Extra supplies and spare clothes can be kept in the trunk of your car or a backpack for use when needed. You will be relieved to have a spare set of clothes in the case of any emergency.
- Scout out your destination. Familiarize yourself with the restrooms available at your destination. Choose seating that allows easy access to restrooms in places like restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting stadiums.
- Talk with your caregiver. As difficult as this may be initially, be upfront with your loved one or caregiver about your urinary incontinence symptoms. A caregiver’s understanding and willingness to accommodate your needs can make your symptoms much easier to handle, and help you feel supported through your daily life.
- Empty your bladder at regular times. To reduce your chances of leakage, avoid drinking fluids for an hour or so before bedtime and empty your bladder before having to sit down for prolonged periods of time.
- Do your Kegel exercises. These exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and reduce urine leakage.
- Be prepared. Using a protective mattress pad or using disposable bed pads on your bed may ease your worry and contain any leakage during the night, and prevents a load of soiled laundry in the morning.