Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine. While more common among the elderly, urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging. In fact, in most cases, it is a treatable medical condition.

There are several types of urinary incontinence, each with different causes. Consult the table below for more on the different types of incontinence.

TypeDescriptionCauses and triggers
Stress incontinenceSymptoms occur when there is an abrupt increase in pressure (stress) on the bladder. Pressure is usually caused by physical movement or activity (coughing, heavy lifting).
  • Weakening of the pelvic floor (muscles that support the bladder, uterus and anus) following childbirth
  • Atrophic vaginitis (may occur in postmenopausal women as a result of decreased estrogen levels)
  • Obesity
Urge incontinence ("overactive bladder")Urine leakage associated with a sudden and strong need to urinate that cannot be delayed.
  • Poor fluid intake
  • Constipation
  • Certain medications
Overflow incontinenceOccurs when the bladder does not empty completely, causing constant dribbling when the bladder becomes too full.
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate)
  • Constipation
Functional incontinenceIndividuals are aware of their need to urinate, but for some reason are unable to get to the toilet in time (e.g., mobility issue, difficulty removing clothing).
  • Physical or mental impairment

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of incontinence and its cause. Certain medications can cause urinary incontinence symptoms. It is recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider to determine whether any of the medications you are taking may be responsible for causing or worsening your symptoms. Do not stop taking any of your medications without first speaking to a medical professional.

The following steps can be taken at home to alleviate symptoms associated with urinary incontinence:

  • Make certain lifestyle changes
    • Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption.
    • Try to manage constipation episodes.
    • Lose weight.
  • Do exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor (Kegel exercises) 3 times a day
    • Start by contracting the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles used to hold in urine or gas. Do not hesitate to ask your healthcare professional for help in locating them.
    • Hold the contraction for 5 seconds.
    • Relax the muscles for 10 seconds. Repeat the cycle 10 times.
    • The goal is to gradually be able to hold the contraction for up to 10 seconds and to relax for 20 seconds between each contraction.
    • An improvement may be observed after 6-8 weeks to performing these exercises.
  • Engage in bladder training
    • This involves training the bladder to hold urine longer and to urinate less frequently.
    • Starts with urinating every hour, then gradually increasing (e.g., every week) the time between urination. The goal is to urinate every 2 to 3 hours only.

Typically, the first step in managing urinary incontinence involves making certain lifestyle changes or doing exercises. Sometimes medication can be used to better control symptoms of urinary incontinence.

Absorbent products (e.g., pads, liners, underwear) designed for urinary incontinence may also be used if needed. In fact, these products help fight odour and protect the skin from irritation caused by contact with urine.

When should I see a medical professional?

Urinary incontinence can be very unpleasant. If you have symptoms, speak to your healthcare professional, especially if any of the following factors apply to you:

  • Leg weakness, or numbness in the legs, around the genital area or anus.
  • Symptoms are making you feel self-conscious or are disrupting your daily activities.
  • Symptoms are negatively impacting your social life or are preventing you from going out.

For more information:

The Canadian Continence Foundation

www.canadiancontinence.ca

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