What is urinary incontinence?
Many people experience involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder. This condition is called urinary incontinence. It affects nearly a quarter to a third of men and women in the United States. That is millions of Americans.
Urinary incontinence is the leaking of urine from the bladder that you can’t control. There are different kinds of urinary incontinence, and not all types are permanent. An experienced doctor can help you find the best treatment for your urinary incontinence.
Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is when the muscles aren’t strong enough to hold urine in the body. SUI shows itself through physical symptoms, including involuntary leaking of urine through the bladder when active.
In some cases, people experience a combination of both SUI and OAB. This shows itself through physical symptoms. If this is the case for you, you will find involuntary leaking of urine through the bladder and strong sudden urges to urinate that you can’t control.
Overflow incontinence is when the bladder isn’t able to empty itself completely. Overflow incontinence shows itself through physical symptoms, including constant dribbling of small amounts of urine when the bladder is full.
These symptoms are not just physical. Urinary incontinence has emotional and psychological effects, too.
Diagnosis for urinary incontinence
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose urinary incontinence. The best treatment for urinary incontinence depends on the underlying cause and the type of urinary incontinence you have. To determine a diagnosis, your doctor may have you undergo a physical exam and complete other tests.
You will record how much you drink and urinate each day and whether you experienced bladder leakage or a strong desire to urinate.
Your doctor will ask you to urinate into a container. The doctor checks the amount of urine left in your bladder using ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves used to make a picture of the inside of the body). The doctor can help determine if you have an obstruction in your bladder or a problem with your bladder or nerves.
Treatments for urinary incontinence
Healthcare providers can help find the best treatment for urinary incontinence. There are many different options available such as:
If you have urinary incontinence, your provider might prescribe a catheter (a flexible tube placed inside the bladder.) A balloon holds the tube inside your bladder. The catheter drains urine out of the bladder into a bag outside the body.
Urine drainage bags
If you have urinary incontinence, your provider might prescribe a urine drainage bag to help collect urine coming out of the bladder. You can hide it under clothing and strap it to your leg. Your doctor can help you find a urine drainage bag that’s the right size for you and feels comfortable to wear.
Catheters for intermittent catheterization
Your doctor may recommend a catheter that you don’t have to wear all the time. Instead, you or your healthcare provider can insert and remove clean catheters 3 to 5 times a day. This helps decrease the chance of infection.
Some providers may recommend that you use adult pads or adult diapers. These products help absorb urine leaking from the bladder, which helps protect your skin and clothes. You have the option of purchasing absorbent products that you throw away after each use, or you can purchase reusable products.
Some people who experience urinary incontinence may have concerns about getting to a toilet in time. Toilet substitutes like commodes (portable toilets) can provide convenience and peace of mind.
Skin care products
Possible complications and side effects
There are also possible complications of the products used to treat urinary incontinence. If you use catheters, a urinary tract infection is a common infectious risk. About 60% of people who use catheters in a hospital also report at least one noninfectious complication in the next 30 days, including:
- Pain or discomfort
- Leaking urine
- Bladder spasms
- Blood in the urine
- Trauma to the skin around where the catheter was
If your doctor prescribed you any medications, they may also have side effects. Consult your healthcare provider about possible complications of any medications or products you use for treatment for urinary incontinence.
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American Family Physician: "Diagnosis of Urinary Incontinence."
JAMA Internal Medicine: "Patient-Reported Complications of Urinary Catheters."
Urology Care Foundation: "Urinary Incontinence."