Start a conversation about incontinence and there’s bound to be a red face or two, some silly jokes and a quick change of subject.
Few people are inclined to discuss their waterworks (or anyone else’s for that matter) which is why many sufferers are themselves clueless about incontinence causes and treatments.
Incontinence isn’t a disease but a symptom
If you think it’s only old ladies who have weak bladders, think again. Because all types of incontinence can be caused by everyday habits, underlying medical conditions, and minor and serious physical problems that can affect both young and old, healthy and ailing, male and female.
However, women are more prone to light leakage than men. This is because women’s plumbing is more internalised. While this has advantages, it also means the female bladder muscle structure is also internalised and so influenced by female events like pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy, and menopause.
Some of the biggest causes of “incontinence in women”/female-incontinence are:
- Weakened and stretched pelvic floor muscles (sometimes resulting in prolapse) from pregnancy and childbirth
- Thinning and drying of the skin in the vagina or urethra, especially after menopause
- Certain medicines
- Being overweight
- Urinary tract infections
- Vascular disease
- Diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis
Frequently, incontinence goes away once the causes have been identified and action taken. For example, after having a baby, the mother can reverse damage done to her pelvic floor by regularly doing pelvic floor exercises to regain pre-birth strength and firmness. And once the pelvic floor is fit and able to do its job of supporting the pelvic organs, the bladder is again controllable and incontinence is no longer a problem.
Other temporary incontinence causes are certain foods, drink and medications. In these cases, a simple change in habits may sort out the problem.
Causes of temporary urinary incontinence
- Alcohol acts as a bladder stimulant and a diuretic, which can cause an overwhelming need to visit the bathroom. Taking in a lot of fluids, especially in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine you have to hold, and so increases the frequency of dashes to the toilet.
- Taking in a lot of fluids, especially in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine you have to hold, and so increases the frequency of dashes to the toilet.
- Dehydration from not drinking enough liquid can cause your urine to become very concentrated. This collection of concentrated salts can irritate your bladder and make incontinence worse. Bladder irritation from drinking carbonated drinks, tea and coffee (with or without caffeine) artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and foods and beverages that are high in spice, sugar and acid, such as citrus and tomatoes.
- Bladder irritation from drinking carbonated drinks, tea and coffee (with or without caffeine) artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and foods and beverages that are high in spice, sugar and acid, such as citrus and tomatoes.
- Medications such as heart medications, blood pressure drugs, sedatives, muscle relaxants and other medications are known to sometimes be causes of incontinence.
Some easily treatable medical conditions are also incontinence causes.
Urinary tract infections can cause strong urges to wee, often at inconvenient moments. These urges may result in stress incontinence and may be the only warning sign of a urinary tract infection.
- Other possible signs and symptoms include a burning sensation when you wee and foul-smelling urine. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
- Constipation can cause incontinence because your rectum is located near the bladder and shares many of the same nerves. Hard, compacted stool in your rectum causes these nerves to be overactive and increase the need to urinate. Ask your doctor about what you can do to relieve constipation.
Causes of persistent incontinence
- Pregnancy is one of the common causes of stress incontinence. Hormonal changes and the increased weight of an enlarging uterus and the growing baby bears down on the balloon-like bladder, making it smaller and so unable to hold its usual amount of liquid.
- Vaginal delivery often causes a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that support and control the bladder. The baby’s passage through the vagina can damage nerves and supportive tissue. This loss of connectivity can cause prolapse which is when your pelvic organs drop from their usual positions and protrude into the vagina or press against the wall. These protrusions are associated with incontinence. Incontinence from childbirth may start straight after delivery or take years to develop.
- Aging of bladder muscle reduces urine storage capacity and increases the symptoms of an overactive bladder. The risk of over-activity goes up if you have blood vessel disease. So maintaining good overall health — including not smoking, treating high blood pressure and keeping within a healthy weight range — can help reduce causes and symptoms of an overactive bladder.
- Menopause causes a drop in oestrogen – an important hormone for helping the lining of the bladder and urethra to stay strong and healthy. With less oestrogen, these tissues may deteriorate and so aggravate incontinence.
- Hysterectomy can be one of the causes of incontinence as the bladder and uterus are close to one another and are supported by the same muscles and ligaments. Any surgery involving your reproductive system runs the risk of damaging the supporting pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence.
- Painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis) is a rare, chronic condition that occasionally causes light leakage, as well as painful and frequent urination.
- Bladder cancer or stones can cause incontinence, urinary urgency and burning with urination. All of these can be signs and symptoms of cancer or stones. Other signs include blood in the urine and pelvic pain. If you suffer from these signs, see your doctor immediately.
- Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, a brain tumor or a spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals involved in bladder control, thereby causing urinary incontinence.
- An obstruction such as a tumour anywhere along your urinary tract can interfere with the normal flow of urine and is one of the more serious causes of incontinence – usually overflow incontinence. Urinary stones (hard, stone-like masses) may be to blame for urine leakage. Stones can be present in your kidneys, bladder or urethra.
- Medical conditions such as hypercalcemia (high calcium levels), hyperglycemia (high sugar levels), diabetes insipidus, congestive heart failure, leg edema (swelling), and vein insufficiency, can lead to incontinence by rapid over- filling of the bladder. Increased sugar levels in the bladder can irritate the bladder muscle and can lead to incontinence.
- Decreased or limited mobility can cause incontinence and can frequently be corrected or improved by treating the underlying problem (e.g., arthritis, poor eyesight, Parkinson’s disease, or orthostatic hypotension).
Now you know the causes, look for treatments
Often urine leakage can be very successfully treated or cured, depending on the causes. At the very least it can be discreetly managed so you can go about your day without worrying about when nature calls.
The bottom line is you don’t have to put up with it. Our online articles about female incontinence, including prolapse, the three different types, the triggers, why it’s so difficult to discuss, the facts, what you should know, and who can help, will have you quickly tackling the problem of incontinence.