Incontinence is a tricky disorder to manage. Unlike many other conditions whose effects can go undetected, the inability to control one’s bladder function can become public knowledge very quickly, both by the appearance of moisture on clothing, and by the presence of urine’s distinct odor. In the US, nearly 3.5 million Americans deal with incontinence – almost ten percent of the population – and can be caused by a number of factors: as a result of recent surgery, or as an involuntary reaction to pressure-exerting movements. Fortunately, incontinence doesn’t need to last a lifetime; it is a fully treatable condition.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common types are stress, urge, and overflow incontinence.
- Stress incontinence. Unrelated to emotional or psychological stress, this type of incontinence results from a weakened sphincter – the area of the bladder that controls flow. This reduced control can be caused by bodily changes (as in pregnancy in women) or a side effect from a recent surgery. By exerting pressure on the bladder through specific movements – both voluntary, like lifting or running, and involuntary, as with laughing, sneezing, and coughing – urine is forced out of the bladder, and with little resistance from the weakened muscle, easily bypasses the sphincter.
- Urge incontinence. Characterized by an immediate and intense urge to urinate, urge incontinence may also be referred to as overactive bladder. This type of incontinence allows only limited forewarning – rarely more than a minute – before involuntary emission occurs. This type of incontinence causes the bladder muscle to contract, and is often a side effect of urinary tract infections, certain diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, stroke, and traumatic injury, among others.
- Overflow incontinence. This type of incontinence causes a constant or near-constant dribble, which reflects an inability to completely empty the bladder. Sufferers of overflow incontinence may sense this when urinating, or may produce only a weak stream of urine. Overflow incontinence is often seen in patients with a damaged bladder, or a blocked urethra. Nerve damage related to diabetes, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury may also be a cause; specifically in men, overflow incontinence can be related to prostate gland problems.
While it’s obvious when incontinence becomes a problem, it is imperative nonetheless to consult with a doctor, as it may be a symptom of another, more serious, condition. In fact, understanding the cause is crucial to getting proper treatment, so it’s imperative to get a diagnosis from your doctor. Sufferers may initially resist getting pads or disposable undergarments out of embarrassment or denial, but the right products can not only prevent leaks, they can block odor while protecting the skin from irritation.
Protective pads and garments are the most commonly used urinary incontinence and overactive bladder products Unlike the images of bulky adult diapers the mind may conjure up, today these products can be found in a wide range of sizes, absorbencies, styles, and colors. For more profuse incontinence, inserts, catheters, and clamps may work. Best of all, most products can be worn discreetly under normal clothing.
Contrary to what many believe, incontinence is not an inevitable result of aging; it can be treated and, oftentimes, reversed. The condition can be alleviated with lifestyle changes, and surgical intervention; the most common methods of treatment, however, are self-training devices (strengthening the sphincter muscle through various exercises), and medication.
Kegels are a form of pelvic-floor exercise which strengthen and control the muscles clenched when holding back the flow of urine. Kegels can be performed using natural techniques though, with myriad assistive devices on the market, patients may achieve enhanced results by integrating these tools into their workout.
Medication may be an effective option for those with urge incontinence, and overactive bladder, though there are fewer options for stress incontinence. The major types of medications used to manage urinary incontinence are anticholinergics (a neurotransmitter blocker), and the hormone estrogen. Other options include the antidepressant imipramine and the synthetic hormone desmopressin, which is more commonly used for bed-wetting in children.
Those concerned about incontinence should consult a doctor immediately, to determine the root cause of the condition. Today, more than ever before, incontinence can be managed with proper medical advice, products, and treatment.