What Is Incontinence?

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the medical term for any involuntary leakage of urine.


Is incontinence a common condition?

Yes, close to 2 million Canadians suffer from some sort of bladder control problem. The condition is much more prevalent in women.


Are there different types of incontinence?

There are five types of incontinence:

  1. Stress Incontinence – The leaking of urine caused by pressure or stress on the lower stomach muscles from coughing, sneezing, laughing, or even mild exercise. Stress incontinence is very common in women.
  2. Urge Incontinence – Often referred to as an Overactive Bladder, this describes the sudden and often uncontrollable need to urinate.
  3. Mixed Incontinence – A combination of stress and urge
  4. Overflow Incontinence – The constant dribbling of urine caused by an overfull bladder
  5. Functional Incontinence – The inability to get to the washroom due to physical limitations or reduced mobility.
  6. Reflex Incontinence – The loss of urine with no warning, mainly due to spinal cord injuries, brain tumours or strokes.

What can be done?

Many people are embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about this condition. In reality it is far more common than people realize and most conditions are manageable.
First and foremost you should talk to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis for your symptoms. Surgery may be an option. Here’s what else you can do:

  1. Lose weight (if necessary). This will take some of the pressure and stress of the lower stomach muscles
  2. Limit caffeine and alcohol. Drink decaffeinated tea and coffee: avoid chocolate and spicy foods
  3. Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of fluids
  4. Local estrogen replacement (vaginal creams or tablets) for women is sometimes helpful
  5. Kegel exercises are useful for stress and urgency incontinence as they help suppress the urge to void. To locate the right muscles pretend you are stopping the flow of urine or gas without using your stomach or leg muscles. Hold and squeeze these muscles for 10 seconds. These exercises should be done 6 to 8 times a day in sets of 20. Do not do these exercises on the toilet as you may stop your bladder from emptying properly
  6. Bladder retraining may also help. Start out by voiding at set intervals such as every hour, whether you feel the need to go or not. Gradually lengthen the time between voiding by 15 to 30 minutes each week until you can comfortably last two to three hours between voids
  7. Use the proper bladder control products for your level of incontinence. The proper products will allow for increased freedom and comfort

What causes incontinence?

In women incontinence is caused by a number of factors including weakened pelvic muscles due to childbirth or previous surgeries and thinning and drying of the vagina tissues after menopause. In men it can be caused by an enlarged prostrate gland or sometimes following prostrate surgery. Certain medications can also cause incontinence. Functional incontinence is directly related to physical or mental limitations resulting in the inability to get to the washroom or confusion as to where it is.


Is there a cure?

Surgery is an option for certain types of incontinence when non-surgical treatments do not work. Medication can also work for certain conditions. Talk to your doctor and find out what treatments are right for you.


How is the condition going to affect my quality of life?

Simple treatments often work well. If surgery is not an option, a person can lead a normal life with medication and/or the use of quality incontinence products. In the last few years major improvements have been made in terms of comfort, absorbency and discreetness of these products, allowing for a regular, more active lifestyle.


Will this get worse as I get older?

Changes with aging may change bladder control and function. With the proper treatment it can be controlled or cured.