14. Have you experienced episodes of urinary incontinence?

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence means that you can’t always control when you urinate, or, have a loss of bladder control. As a result, you wet your clothes. It can happen to anyone but is very common in older adults.  At least 1 in 10 adults age 65 and older have urinary incontinence.  Also, you may find yourself avoiding friends and family because of fear or embarrassment.  Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have this problem. If you hide your incontinence, you risk getting rashes, sores, and skin and urinary tract infections.  In most cases urinary incontinence can be treated and controlled, if not cured.

Types of urinary incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence – occurs when urine leaks because of sudden pressure on your lower stomach muscles, such as when you cough, sneeze, laugh, lift something or during exercise. Stress incontinence can be related to weakening of pelvic muscles, for example, from childbirth or surgery, and is common in women.
  • Urge incontinence – occurs when the need to urinate comes on too fast, before you can get to a toilet. Your body may only give you a warning of a few seconds to minutes before you urinate. Healthy people may have urge incontinence, but it is most common in people who have diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.
  • Overflow incontinence – happens when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is full.  You may feel like you can’t empty your bladder all the way and you may strain when urinating. This often occurs in men and can be caused by something blocking the urinary flow, such as an enlarged prostate gland or tumor. Diabetes, spinal cord injury, or certain medicines may also cause the problem.
  • Functional incontinence – occurs when you have normal urine control but have trouble getting to the bathroom in time. You may not be able to get to the bathroom because of arthritis or other disorders that make moving quickly difficult.

Is urinary incontinence just part of growing older?

No, but changes with age can reduce how much urine your bladder can hold. Aging can make your stream of urine weaker and can cause you to feel the urge to urinate more often. This doesn’t mean you’ll have urinary incontinence just because you’re aging. Remember, with treatment it can be controlled or cured.

How can it be treated?

Treatment depends on what’s causing the problem and what type of incontinence you have.

  • Kegel exercises (or pelvic muscle exercises) – These exercises help strengthen the muscles that control the bladder. They can be done anywhere, anytime. Although designed for women, the Kegel exercises can also help men. It may take three to six months to see an improvement.
  • Bladder training and time voiding – Some people with urge incontinence can learn to lengthen the time between urges to go to the bathroom through bladder training. You start by urinating at set intervals, such as every 30 minutes to two hours, whether you feel the need to go or not. Then gradually lengthen the time between when you urinate, for example by 30 minutes, until you’re urinating every three to four hours.  Time voiding helps you to learn your urination and leaking patterns so you may anticipate when it is best to empty your bladder before you experience leaking.
  • Medicine – Medicine helps some types of urinary incontinence. For example, estrogen cream to put in the vagina can be helpful for some postmenopausal women who have mild stress incontinence. Other medications can treat incontinence by preventing unwanted bladder contractions while others relax muscles, helping the bladder to empty more fully during urination.
  • Surgery – Surgery can be helpful in cases where incontinence is caused by a problem such as a change in the position of the bladder or blockage due to an enlarged prostate.

For additional information:

  • Discuss with your physician.
  • Contact Affinity NurseDirect at 1-800-362-9900 toll-free, (920) 738-2230 in the Fox Cities, or (920) 231-6578 in Oshkosh.

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Adapted from:  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Reviewed: 1/07
Reviewer:  rfc

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