Urinary incontinence - what to ask your doctor
What to ask your doctor about urinary incontinence; Stress urinary incontinence; Urge urinary incontinence
You have urinary incontinence. This means that you are not able to keep urine from leaking from your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body from your bladder. Urinary incontinence may occur as you get older. It can also develop after a surgery or childbirth. There are different types of incontinence. Your health care provider will evaluate your type and recommend appropriate treatment. You can do many things to help keep urinary incontinence from affecting your daily life.
When you enter a store or restaurant, are you often looking to find the establishments bathroom? If you're having trouble holding in your urine, or if you often leak urine, you probably have what's called urinary incontinence. Normally, the bladder begins to fill with urine from the kidneys. The bladder stretches to allow more and more urine. You should feel the first urge to urinate when there is about 200 mL, just under 1 cup of urine stored in your bladder. A healthy nervous system will respond to this stretching sensation by letting you know that you have to urinate. But, at the same time, the bladder should keep filling. But the system doesn't work correctly in people with urinary incontinence. Some people with urinary incontinence leak urine during activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercise. This is called stress incontinence. When you have a sudden, strong need to urinate, but can't make it to the bathroom before you do urinate, it's called urge incontinence. Other people have what's called overflow incontinence, when the bladder cannot empty and they dribble. Urinary incontinence can have many causes, and it's most common in older adults. Women are more likely than men to have it. For some people the bladder muscle is overactive. For others, the muscles holding the urine in are weak. And for others, the problem is sensing when the bladder is full. They might have brain or nerve problems, dementia or other health problems that make it hard to feel and respond to the urge to urinate, or problems with the urinary system itself. To treat urinary incontinence, your doctor can help you form a treatment plan. Most likely, exercises to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor will be part of that plan. Bladder training exercises can also be effective. And depending on the cause of incontinence, oral medications, or topical estrogen may be helpful. If you have overflow incontinence and cannot empty your bladder completely, you may need to use a catheter. Your doctor can recommend the best catheter for you. For urine leaks, you might wear absorbent pads or undergarments. Whatever else you try, lifestyle changes may help. Aim for an ideal weight. Losing excess weight and increasing exercise both often improve incontinence, especially in women. Also, some specific beverages and foods might increase leaking in some people. For instance, you might try eliminating alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, even decaf coffee. Drink plenty of water, but do NOT drink anything 2 to 4 hours before going to bed. Be sure to empty your bladder before going to bed to help prevent urine leakage at night. Throughout the day, urinate at set times, even if you do not feel the urge. Schedule yourself every 3 to 4 hours. Urinary incontinence is very common, but many people never talk to their doctor about it. Don't let that be you. See your doctor and bring it up at your next doctor's visit.
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How can I protect the mattress on my bed? What should I use to clean a mattress?
How much water or liquids should I drink every day?
Which foods or liquids can make my urinary incontinence worse?
Are there activities I should avoid that may cause problems with urine control?
How can I train my bladder to help avoid having symptoms?
Are there exercises I can do to help with my urinary incontinence? What are Kegel exercises?
What can I do when I want to exercise? Are there exercises that may make my urinary incontinence worse?
Are there products available that can help?
Are there medicines or drugs that I can take to help? What are the side effects?
What tests can be done to find the cause of incontinence?
Are there surgeries or other procedures that can help fix my urinary incontinence?
Newman DK, Burgio KL. Conservative management of urinary incontinence: behavioral and pelvic floor therapy and urethral and pelvic devices. In: Partin AW, Dmochowski RR, Kavoussi LR, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh-Wein Urology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 121.
Resnick NM. Incontinence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 23.
Last reviewed on: 1/1/2023
Reviewed by: Kelly L. Stratton, MD, FACS, Associate Professor, Department of Urology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.