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Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine; in simple terms, it means a person urinates when they do not want to. Control over the urinary sphincter is either lost or weakened.Urinary incontinence is a much more common problem than most people realize.
According to the American Urological Association, one-quarter to one-third of men and women in the United States experience urinary incontinence.Urinary incontinence is more common among women than men. An estimated 30 percent of females aged 30-60 are thought to suffer from it, compared to 1.5-5 percent of men.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
- Stress incontinence – also known as effort incontinence, is due essentially to insufficient strength of the pelvic floor muscles to prevent the passage of urine, especially during activities that increase intra-abdominal pressure, such as coughing, sneezing, or bearing down.
- Urge incontinence – is involuntary loss of urine occurring for no apparent reason while suddenly feeling the need or urge to urinate.
- Overflow incontinence – Sometimes people find that they cannot stop their bladders from constantly dribbling or continuing to dribble for some time after they have passed urine. It is as if their bladders were constantly overflowing, hence the general name overflow incontinence.
- Mixed incontinence – is not uncommon in the elderly female population and can sometimes be complicated by urinary retention, which makes it a treatment challenge requiring staged multimodal treatment.
- Structural incontinence – rarely, structural problems can cause incontinence, usually diagnosed in childhood (for example, an ectopic ureter). Fistulas caused by obstetric and gynecologic trauma or injury are commonly known as obstetric fistulas and can lead to incontinence. These types of vaginal fistulas include, most commonly, vesicovaginal fistula and, more rarely, ureterovaginal fistula. These may be difficult to diagnose. The use of standard techniques along with a vaginogram or radiologically viewing the vaginal vault with instillation of contrast media.
- Functional incontinence – occurs when a person recognizes the need to urinate but cannot make it to the bathroom. The loss of urine may be large. There are several causes of functional incontinence including confusion, dementia, poor eyesight, mobility or dexterity, unwillingness to toilet because of depression or anxiety or inebriation due to alcohol.Functional incontinence can also occur in certain circumstances where no biological or medical problem is present. For example, a person may recognise the need to urinate but may be in a situation where there is no toilet nearby or access to a toilet is restricted.
- Nocturnal enuresis – is episodic UI while asleep. It is normal in young children.
- Transient incontinence – is a temporary incontinence most often seen in pregnant women when it subsequently resolves after the birth of the child.
- Giggle incontinence – is an involuntary response to laughter. It usually affects children.
- Double incontinence -there is also a related condition for defecation known as fecal incontinence. Due to involvement of the same muscle group (levator ani) in bladder and bowel continence, patients with urinary incontinence are more likely to have fecal incontinence in addition. This is sometimes termed “double incontinence”.
- Post-void dribbling – is the phenomenon where urine remaining in the urethra after voiding the bladder slowly leaks out after urination.
- Coital incontinence (CI) – is urinary leakage that occurs during either penetration or orgasm and can occur with a sexual partner or with masturbation. It has been reported to occur in 10% to 24% of sexually active women with pelvic floor disorders.
Causes of Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. It can be caused by everyday habits, underlying medical conditions or physical problems. A thorough evaluation by your doctor can help determine what’s behind your incontinence.
Temporary urinary incontinence
Certain drinks, foods and medications may act as diuretics — stimulating your bladder and increasing your volume of urine. They include:
- Carbonated drinks and sparkling water
- Artificial sweeteners
- Chili peppers
- Foods that are high in spice, sugar or acid, especially citrus fruits
- Heart and blood pressure medications, sedatives, and muscle relaxants
- Large doses of vitamin C
Urinary incontinence may also be caused by an easily treatable medical condition, such as:
- Urinary tract infection. Infections can irritate your bladder, causing you to have strong urges to urinate, and sometimes incontinence.
- Constipation. The rectum is located near the bladder and shares many of the same nerves. Hard, compacted stool in your rectum causes these nerves to be overactive and increase urinary frequency.
Persistent urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence can also be a persistent condition caused by underlying physical problems or changes, including:
- Pregnancy. Hormonal changes and the increased weight of the fetus can lead to stress incontinence.
- Childbirth. Vaginal delivery can weaken muscles needed for bladder control and also damage bladder nerves and supportive tissue, leading to a dropped (prolapsed) pelvic floor. With prolapse, the bladder, uterus, rectum or small intestine can get pushed down from the usual position and protrude into the vagina. Such protrusions can be associated with incontinence.
- Changes with age. Aging of the bladder muscle can decrease the bladder’s capacity to store urine. Also, involuntary bladder contractions become more frequent as you get older.
- Menopause. After menopause women produce less estrogen, a hormone that helps keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy. Deterioration of these tissues can aggravate incontinence.
- Hysterectomy. In women, the bladder and uterus are supported by many of the same muscles and ligaments. Any surgery that involves a woman’s reproductive system, including removal of the uterus, may damage the supporting pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence.
- Enlarged prostate. Especially in older men, incontinence often stems from enlargement of the prostate gland, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
- Prostate cancer. In men, stress incontinence or urge incontinence can be associated with untreated prostate cancer. But more often, incontinence is a side effect of treatments for prostate cancer.
- Obstruction. A tumor anywhere along your urinary tract can block the normal flow of urine, leading to overflow incontinence. Urinary stones — hard, stone-like masses that form in the bladder — sometimes cause urine leakage.
- Neurological disorders. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, a brain tumor or a spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals involved in bladder control, causing urinary incontinence.
- The following points regarding the clinical presentation should be sought when obtaining the history:
Severity and quantity of urine lost and frequency of incontinence episodes
Duration of the complaint and whether problems have been worsening
Triggering factors or events (eg, cough, sneeze, lifting, bending, feeling of urgency, sound of running water, sexual activity/orgasm)
Constant versus intermittent urine loss
Associated frequency, urgency, dysuria, pain with a full bladder
History of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Concomitant fecal incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse
Coexistent complicating or exacerbating medical problems
Obstetrical history, including difficult deliveries, grand multiparity, forceps use, obstetrical lacerations, and large babies
History of pelvic surgery, especially prior incontinence procedures, hysterectomy, or pelvic floor reconstructive procedures
Other urologic procedures
Spinal and central nervous system surgery
Lifestyle issues, such as smoking, alcohol or caffeine abuse, and occupational and recreational factors causing severe or repetitive increases in intra-abdominal pressure
Relevant complicating or exacerbating medical problems may include the following:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Congestive heart failure
Connective tissue disorders
CNS or spinal cord disorders
Urinary tract stones
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Cancer of pelvic organs
Medications that may be associated with urinary incontinence include the following:
Cholinergic or anticholinergic drugs
Over-the-counter allergy medications
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
Factors that increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence include:
- Gender. Women are more likely to have stress incontinence. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and normal female anatomy account for this difference. However, men with prostate gland problems are at increased risk of urge and overflow incontinence.
- Age. As you get older, the muscles in your bladder and urethra lose some of their strength. Changes with age reduce how much your bladder can hold and increase the chances of involuntary urine release.
- Being overweight. Extra weight increases pressure on your bladder and surrounding muscles, which weakens them and allows urine to leak out when you cough or sneeze.
- Smoking. Tobacco use may increase your risk of urinary incontinence.
- Family history. If a close family member has urinary incontinence, especially urge incontinence, your risk of developing the condition is higher.
- Other diseases. Neurological disease or diabetes may increase your risk of incontinence.
Symptoms of urinary incontinence
The main symptom is the unintentional release (leakage) of urine. When and how this occurs will depend on the type of urinary incontinence.
This is the most common kind of urinary incontinence, especially among women who have given birth or gone through the menopause.
In this case stress refers to physical pressure, rather than mental stress. When the bladder and muscles involved in urinary control are placed under sudden extra pressure, the person may urinate involuntarily.
The following actions may trigger stress incontinence:
- A sudden cough
- Heavy lifting
Urge incontinence (effort incontinence)
Also known as reflex incontinence or “overactive bladder,” this is the second most common type of urinary incontinence. There is a sudden, involuntary contraction of the muscular wall of the bladder that causes an urge to urinate that cannot be stopped.
When the urge to urinate comes, the person has a very short time before the urine is released, regardless of what they try to do. The urge to urinate may be caused by:
- A sudden change in position
- The sound of running water (for some people)
- Sex (especially during orgasm)
Bladder muscles can activate involuntarily because of damage to the nerves of the bladder, the nervous system, or to the muscles themselves.
This is more common in men with prostate gland problems, a damaged bladder, or a blocked urethra. An enlarged prostate gland can obstruct the bladder.
The bladder cannot hold as much urine as the body is making and/or the bladder cannot empty completely, causing small amounts of urinary leakage. Often, patients will need to urinate frequently, and they may experience “dribbling” or a constant dripping of urine from the urethra.
This is where a patient experiences both stress and urge incontinence at the same time.
With functional incontinence, the person knows there is a need to urinate, but cannot make it to the bathroom in time due to a mobility problem.
Common causes of functional incontinence include:
- Poor eyesight
- Poor mobility
- Poor dexterity (cannot unbutton pants in time)
- Depression, anxiety, or anger (unwilling to go to the toilet)
Functional incontinence is more prevalent among elderly people and is common in nursing homes.
Gross total incontinence
This either means that the person leaks urine continuously, or has periodic uncontrollable leaking of large amounts of urine.
The patient may have a congenital problem (born with a defect), there may be an injury to the spinal cord or urinary system, or there may be a hole (fistula) between the bladder and, for example, the vagina.
A careful history taking is essential especially in the pattern of voiding and urine leakage as it suggests the type of incontinence faced. Other important points include straining and discomfort, use of drugs, recent surgery, and illness.
The physical examination will focus on looking for signs of medical conditions causing incontinence, such as tumors that block the urinary tract, stool impaction, and poor reflexes or sensations, which may be evidence of a nerve-related cause.
A test often performed is the measurement of bladder capacity and residual urine for evidence of poorly functioning bladder muscles.
Other tests include:
- A bladder diary – the doctor may ask the patient to record how much they drink, when urination occurs, how much urine is produced, and the number of episodes of incontinence.
- Physical exam – the doctor may examine the vagina and check the strength of her pelvic floor muscles. If the patient is male, the doctor may examine his rectum to determine whether the prostate gland is enlarged.
- Stress test – the patient relaxes, then coughs vigorously as the doctor watches for loss of urine.
- Urinalysis – urine is tested for evidence of infection, urinary stones, or other contributing causes.
- Blood tests – blood is taken, sent to a laboratory, and examined for substances related to causes of incontinence.
- Ultrasound – sound waves are used to visualize the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
- Cystoscopy – a thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted in the urethra and used to see the inside of the urethra and bladder.
- Urodynamic testing – determines how much pressure the bladder and urinary sphincter muscle can withstand.
- Cystogram – X-ray procedure to visualize the bladder.
- Cystoscopy – a cystoscope (a thin tube with a lens at the end) is inserted into the urethra. The doctor can view abnormalities in the urinary tract.
Patients are often asked to keep a diary for a day or more, up to a week, to record the pattern of voiding, noting times and the amounts of urine produced.
Medical devices for treatment
The following medical devices are designed for females.
- Urethral inserts – the woman inserts the device before activity and takes it out when she wants to urinate.
- Pessary – a rigid ring inserted into the vagina. It is worn all day. The device helps hold the bladder up and prevent leakage.
- Radiofrequency therapy – tissue in the lower urinary tract is heated. When it heals it is usually firmer, often resulting in better urinary control.
- Botox (botulinum toxin type A) – injected into the bladder muscle, to help those with an overactive bladder.
- Bulking agents – injected into tissue around the urethra, to help keep it closed.
Your physician may suggest one or more options to treat an overactive bladder:
- Bladder training, or urinating according to a timetable (instead of according to urge)
- Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles
- Dietary changes to avoid foods that trigger your symptoms
- Medications, including hormone replacement therapy and anticholinergics (which prevent bladder spasms)
- A pessary, a ring inserted into the vagina that helps support the bladder and uterus
- Sacral nerve stimulation therapy, an electrical device to stimulate nerves, affecting signals to the bladder
- Acupuncture, yoga and other alternative treatments
Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS)
This is a non-surgical, low-risk treatment to consider if Kegel exercises and medication have failed to relieve urinary symptoms.
PTNS works by indirectly providing electrical stimulation to the nerves responsible for bladder and pelvic floor function.
During this office procedure, the patient’s foot will be elevated and supported, and a slim needle electrode will be placed near the tibial nerve at the ankle.
A device is then connected to the electrode that sends mild electrical pulses to the tibial nerve. These impulses then travel to the group of nerves at the base of the spine—the sacral nerve plexus—that are responsible for bladder function.
This treatment stimulates the nerves through gentle electrical impulses, and this can lead to gradual changes in bladder activity over time.
Typically, patients will undergo a series of 12 weekly, half-hour sessions. Improvements with PTNS are typically noted five to six weeks later. Studies have reported that upwards of 80 percent of patients benefit from the procedure.
• Sacral neuromodulation
InterStim therapy is a proven neuromodulation therapy that targets the communication problem between the brain and the nerves that control the bladder.
Bladder function is regulated by a group of nerves at the base of the spine called the sacral nerve plexus. When those nerves are stimulated through gentle electrical impulses similar to that in a heart pacemaker, bladder overactivity can be calmed or eliminated.
The implantation of the InterStim device sends continuous impulses to the sacral nerve plexus, which inhibits urgency and spontaneous uncontrolled bladder activity.
Autonomic dysreflexia associated with intradetrusor injections of BOTOX® could occur in patients treated for detrusor overactivity associated with a neurologic condition and may require prompt medical therapy. In clinical trials, the incidence of autonomic dysreflexia was greater in patients treated .
Antimuscarinic (antispasomodic) medications
These medications reduce the number of involuntary bladder contractions by preventing spasm of the detrusor muscle that causes them, and increase bladder capacity. In general, these medications can reduce leakage of urine caused by OAB by 60% to 75%. Examples of antimuscarinic medications include:
The most common side effects of antimuscarinic medications are dry mouth, dry eyes, increased pressure inside the eye, and constipation. Be sure to tell your doctor about all of the medications you are taking and all of your medical conditions, as there are some people who should not take antimuscarinic medications. These side effects can be minimized bv starting with a low dose of medication and gradually increasing the dose.
This is a new type of medication for the treatment of OAB. It helps relax the detrusor muscle (in the bladder wall) to prevent unwanted spasms that may cause symptoms of OAB. Currently there is only one drug in this category called “mirabegron”. An uncommon side effect of mirabegron is an increase in blood pressure. Be sure to tell your doctor about all of the medications you are taking and all of your medical conditions, as there are some people who should not take this medication.
Medications known as tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline, imipramine) and calcium channel blockers (e.g., nifedipine, diltiazem) have been used with mixed results in the treatment of OAB. They may be prescribed for urinary incontinence, but this is an “off-label” or unapproved use and is not recommended.
The Complete Nighttime Guide to an Overactive Bladder
If you are part of the approximately 16-18% of the population who suffers from overactive bladder syndrome (OAB), you already know how badly it can interfere with your life. From the embarrassment of an incident to the exhaustion after a poor night’s sleep, anyone experiencing the effects of OAB is likely seeking to remedy them. And that’s exactly what this nighttime guide to overactive bladder will cover!
Overactive Bladder and Sleep
“[OAB] can disrupt sleep completely, and people can be extremely overtired,” said Luis Sanz, MD, director of urogynecology and pelvic surgery at Virginia Hospital Center.
We tend to think of wet sheets as the worst potential effect of nocturia, but endless nights of interrupted sleep and the ensuing days of exhaustion can start to feel just as bad– even if you never wet the bed. Many of us tend to dismiss being “tired” as a common thing in our modern society, or even herald it as a side effect of being busy and successful, but long term sleep deprivation is a serious issue.
Not only can OAB interfere with your general wellbeing, it can interfere with your sexual wellbeing too. Losing control of your bladder as an intimate evening starts to unfold can certainly pull the plug on the moment. This is a common experience for people with OAB, because sexual activity itself is irritating to the bladder. Luckily, most of the preventative measures that help with OAB in general will also help in regard to sex!
When it comes to overactive bladder, your best offense is often a well-prepared defense. Here are some things you can do to help decrease the effects of your condition.
As with any health-related issue, it’s best to build the plan of attack on a sound foundation. This sound foundation includes good nutrition and avoiding the foods you shouldn’t eat if you have OAB.
Here are some of the foods and beverages known to irritate your bladder:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Caffeine – a diuretic that increases urine output
- Citrus juices – since they are acidic
- Cranberry juice – a surprising culprit that can be good for bladder health in those not affected, but is actually an irritant for individuals with OAB
- Tea – if it’s caffeinated or is made with any other potential irritants
- Tomato juice or sauce
One thing to be especially vigilant about is whether a food is okay for your condition, even if it’s a “healthy” food overall. Options like unsweetened fruit juices, tomatoes, and other acidic foods and drinks may be good for the average person, but are irritants for you and your bladder. It’s always good to do a quick internet search on which foods are acidic and to talk to your doctor about nutrition.
No Smoking, Please!
Another big irritant is nicotine. You likely already know that smoking isn’t good for you, but if you do happen to smoke, this is yet another reason to quit. Remember not to be ashamed if you’ve tried to quit before and have failed. It’s not easy, but you can do it!
We recommend talking to your doctor about quitting methods and giving it another attempt. You never know if this one change will be what cures your OAB; it has definitely made a big difference for some patients in the past.
Keep Up the Kegels
If you’re a little overwhelmed by all the “don’ts,” here is a “do”!
Do Kegel exercises regularly to help control your OAB. As you might already know, Kegels are done by contracting and then releasing the muscles around your urethra’s opening. If you’ve never done one before, try stopping your urine stream next time you use the restroom. This is what a Kegel feels like.
Not only can doing Kegels regularly help you build strength over time, doing one when you have the sudden urge to go can also help you control your bladder as you seek out the next bathroom.
This might be the least predictable tip of them all: drink water! Though hydrating too much at night is of course a bad idea (we will get further into that in the next section), drinking enough over the course of the day is a good idea. Drinking too little water will cause your urine to become more concentrated, which can then actually irritate the bladder from the inside out. Having insufficient amounts of fluid in your body can also promote bacteria growth, which can in turn trigger incontinence.
Your Evening Routine
Now that you have some tips and tricks for day-to-day life, let’s get into evening specifics. There are two simple steps that can make a big difference.
The Double Void Trick
If you’ve just started having bladder troubles, perhaps you haven’t previously thought much about when that last bathroom trip of the evening happens. Maybe it’s before brushing your teeth. Maybe when you turn off the TV or finish the dinner dishes or whatever marks the end of your day and beginning of your “winding down” routine. Perhaps you don’t go again after your nighttime routine.
Now that you are battling OAB, try the double-voiding trick instead of just urinating sometime in the evening. Double-voiding involves urinating twice right before bed. Use the restroom once, then brush your teeth and go through your routine. Use the restroom again right before going to bed, even if you don’t feel like it or your bedtime routine only took five minutes. Even squeezing out a last couple drops can help.
Your Fluid Cut-Off Time
Often, we make the mistake of forgetting to drink water during the day and then trying to catch up at night. It makes sense that people get into this habit; days are filled with work, errands, volunteering, and countless activities, while evenings are more of a time to wind down… and sip some glasses of water.
Try to be aware of your hydration timeline and whether you’ve fallen into this habit. If so, turn that routine on its head! Hydrating during the day but not drinking any liquids after 5 or 6 pm is a good idea for anyone who struggles with nocturia.
This cut-off time is a good rule of thumb for irritants as well as liquids. If you’re like most people, it probably sounds rough to never again drink a fresh squeezed fruit juice, eat pasta with tomato sauce, or enjoy a chocolate bar. On days you want to indulge, try to have that fruit juice in the morning, eat the pasta for lunch, or have your chocolate in the early afternoon. And try not to do all those things in the same day!
OAB “Safety Nets”
Perhaps you’re already taking all of those preventive measures, but still have an overactive bladder. That’s when the safety nets come into play.
The technology that goes into absorbent briefs has come a long way, and many look as discreet as regular underwear. Slipping one on at night can do a lot to protect your mattress and ease your mind.
Plastic sheets or vinyl covers aren’t always the most comfortable, but they can be highly effective. These options are affordable, not to mention quick and easy to wipe down.
Mattress covers and protectors can be a great option as well. Unlike the plastic options, mattress covers are often made from softer terry material and are less noticeable. They are sometimes also less affordable, but are a good investment to make in your health and hygiene, not to mention that they protect a mattress likely costing far more.
If you sleep like a rock and are more vulnerable to nighttime voiding than waking up, a bed pad might be your new best friend. Bed pads tend to be an optimal match for people who don’t move much in their sleep. The waterproof pads simply slip underneath your body toward the middle of the mattress (above the sheets). If anything happens, all you need to wash is the pad. If nothing goes wrong, you can store it for the day or simply make your bed over it.
This is probably the most extreme-sounding option, but is a great for some people. A catheter doesn’t technically require a prescription, but we do recommend talking to your doctor before trying one out. He or she will be able to advise whether or not a catheter is necessary in your specific case.
Medications to treat Overactive Bladder
The following list of medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of this condition.
Pelvic floor muscle exercise
Classification of drugs
Most drugs used to treat overactive bladder are muscarinic antagonists.
Comparison of drugs
|Comparison of overactive bladder medication|
|Oxybutynin (extended release)||
|Oxybutynin (transdermal patch)||
|Oxybutynin (Topical medication)||
|Tolterodine (extended release)||
|Trospium (short acting)||
|Trospium (extended release)||
|Drug name||Rx / OTC||Preg||CSA||Alcohol||Reviews||Rating||Popularity|
|tamsulosinOFF LABEL||Rx||B||N||X||28 reviews||
|FlomaxOFF LABEL||Rx||B||N||X||10 reviews||
|Detrol LA||Rx||C||N||X||10 reviews||
|Ditropan XL||Rx||B||N||X||2 reviews||
|B & O Supprettes||Rx||C||2||X||2 reviews||
|Oxytrol for Women||OTC||B||N||X||7 reviews||
|Sanctura XR||Rx||C||N||X||4 reviews||
|belladonna / opium||Rx||C||2||X||7 reviews||
|Belladonna Tincture||Rx||C||N||X||Add review||Rat|
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