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Urinary Incontinence


What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence (UI) is when you lose control of your bladder.

What causes UI?

UI occurs because your bladder cannot store or empty urine properly. The following are the most common types of UI:

  • Stress incontinence is when you leak urine due to increased bladder pressure. This may happen when you cough, sneeze, or exercise.
  • Urge incontinence is when you feel the need to urinate right away and leak urine accidentally.
  • Mixed incontinence is when you have both stress and urge UI.

What are the signs and symptoms of UI?

  • You feel like your bladder does not empty completely when you urinate.
  • You urinate often and need to urinate immediately.
  • You leak urine when you sleep, or you wake up with the urge to urinate.
  • You leak urine when you cough, sneeze, exercise, or laugh.

How is UI diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how often you leak urine and whether you have stress or urge symptoms. Tell him which medicines you take, how often you urinate, and how much liquid you drink each day. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Urine tests may show infection or kidney function.
  • A pelvic exam may be done to check for blockages. A pelvic exam will also show if your bladder, uterus, or other organs have moved out of place.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, or CT may show problems with parts of your urinary system. You may be given contrast liquid to help your organs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A bladder scan will show how much urine is left in your bladder after you urinate. You will be asked to urinate and then healthcare providers will use a small ultrasound machine to check the urine left in your bladder.
  • Cystometry is used to check the function of your urinary system. Your healthcare provider checks the pressure in your bladder while filling it with fluid. Your bladder pressure may also be tested when your bladder is full and while you urinate.

How is UI treated?

  • Medicines can help strengthen your bladder control.
  • Electrical stimulation is used to send a small amount of electrical energy to your pelvic floor muscles. This helps control your bladder function. Electrodes may be placed outside your body or in your rectum. For women, the electrodes may be placed in the vagina.
  • A bulking agent may be injected into the wall of your urethra to make it thicker. This helps keep your urethra closed and decreases urine leakage.
  • Devices such as a clamp, pessary, or tampon may help stop urine leaks. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about these and other devices.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. Several types of surgery can help improve your bladder control. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the surgery you may need.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Do pelvic muscle exercises often. Your pelvic muscles help you stop urinating. Squeeze these muscles tight for 5 seconds, then relax for 5 seconds. Gradually work up to squeezing for 10 seconds. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions a day, or as directed. This will help strengthen your pelvic muscles and improve bladder control.
  • A catheter may be used to help empty your bladder. A catheter is a tiny, plastic tube that is put into your bladder to drain your urine. Your healthcare provider may tell you to use a catheter to prevent your bladder from getting too full and leaking urine.
  • Keep a UI record. Write down how often you leak urine and how much you leak. Make a note of what you were doing when you leaked urine.
  • Train your bladder. Go to the bathroom at set times, such as every 2 hours, even if you do not feel the urge to go. You can also try to hold your urine when you feel the urge to go. For example, hold your urine for 5 minutes when you feel the urge to go. As that becomes easier, hold your urine for 10 minutes.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to limit the amount of liquid you drink to help control your urine leakage. Limit or do not have drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol. Do not drink any liquid right before you go to bed.
  • Prevent constipation. Eat a variety of high-fiber foods. Good examples are high-fiber cereals, beans, vegetables, and whole-grain breads. Prune juice may help make your bowel movement softer. Walking is the best way to trigger your intestines to have a bowel movement.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh and about the best exercise plan for you. Weight loss and exercise will decrease pressure on your bladder and help you control your leakage. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You see blood in your urine.
  • You have pain when you urinate.
  • You have new or worse pain, even after treatment.
  • Your mouth feels dry or you have vision changes.
  • Your urine is cloudy or smells bad.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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