Urinary incontinence is a common and usually embarrassing issue. Its severity ranges from occasional urine leakage when the patient is sneezing or coughing to having a strong urge to pee which is so sudden that the patient does not have enough time to go to the toilet in time.
Patients whose lives are significantly affected by this condition should not hesitate to see their doctor. For many people, a simple medical treatment or lifestyle change can stop urinary incontinence or can ease its discomfort. Here is what you need to know about urinary incontinence and whether or not occasional urine leakages is a sign of this condition.
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is a condition wherein a person cannot hold his or her bladder or prevent the urine from leaking out. It is caused by many factors and is more common in obese people. The risk of getting urinary incontinence increases with age.
Many people experience minor urine leakage occasionally. In comparison, others might leak a small to moderate amount of urine more regularly.
Types of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence can be classified into several types, which include:
- Urge incontinence: The patients have an intense, sudden urge to pee, followed by involuntary urine leakage. They may need to pee frequently, including throughout the night. It may be caused by a minor issue like an infection or a more serious condition like diabetes.
- Stress incontinence: Urine leakages occur when the patients exert pressure to their bladder through sneezing, coughing, laughing, exercising or lifting a heavy object.
- Functional incontinence: It may be caused by mental or physical impairment. Patients with severe arthritis, for instance, may not be able to make it to the bathroom in time.
- Overflow incontinence: Patients may experience constant or frequent urine dribbles because of a bladder which does not empty fully.
- Mixed incontinence: Patients are experiencing more than one kind of urinary incontinence.
Causes of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence is not a disease but a symptom and can be caused by many things, from daily habits to underlying health conditions. A thorough assessment by a qualified physician is necessary to determine the reason behind the condition.
Temporary urinary incontinence may be due to certain foods, drinks and medications that may work as diuretics, which stimulate the bladder and increase urine volume. These items include alcohol, carbonated drinks, sparkling water, caffeine, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, chilli peppers, foods loaded with sugar, spice or acid, blood pressure and heart medications, sedatives and high doses of vitamin C. It may also be caused by an easily treatable medical problem like constipation and urinary tract infection.
On the other hand, persistent urinary incontinence is caused by the following underlying physical changes or conditions:
- Changes with age: Bladder muscle ageing can reduce the bladder’s ability to store urine. Involuntary bladder contraction will also become more common as people get older.
- Menopause: After menopause, women release less oestrogen, which promotes the healthy lining of the urethra and bladder. These tissues’ deterioration can worsen incontinence.
- Pregnancy: Increase foetal weight, and hormonal changes may result in stress incontinence.
- Childbirth: Vaginal delivery can weaken the muscles necessary for bladder control as well as impair the bladder nerves and supportive tissue, resulting in a prolapsed pelvic floor. With such a prolapse, the uterus, bladder or small intestine can get pushed down from the original position and extrude into the vagina. This situation can be linked with incontinence.
- Hysterectomy: Any surgery involving a woman’s reproductive system may harm the supporting pelvic floor muscles, resulting in incontinence.
- Obstruction: The existence of a tumour anywhere along the urinary tract can prevent urine’s normal flow, resulting in overflow incontinence. Sometimes, urinary stones can also lead to urine leakage.
- Enlarged prostate: Incontinence, particularly amongst the older men, is usually caused by prostate gland enlargement, which is recognised as benign prostatic hyperplasia.
- Neurological disorders: Neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis may cause urinary incontinence due to nerve signals interference associated with bladder control.
Risk factors of urinary incontinence
Some people are more likely to develop urinary incontinence due to the following factors:
- Gender: Women have a higher risk of having stress incontinence due to menopause, pregnancy, childbirth and ordinary family anatomy. Men with prostate gland issues are more likely to develop overflow and urge incontinence.
- Age: Muscles in the urethra and bladder lose some of their capacities as people get older, which increase the chances of having involuntary urinary leakage.
- Family history: People who have a family member with urinary incontinence, particularly urge incontinence, are more likely to develop the condition.
Other risk factors include being overweight, smoking and other illnesses, such as diabetes and neurological disorders.
When to see a doctor?
Patients may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing urinary or bladder leakage with their healthcare providers. However, suppose the condition is frequent and affects the quality of their life, in that case, they should seek medical attention from a reputable Singapore women’s clinic as soon as possible since it may:
- Indicate a more severe underlying health issue
- Cause them to limit their social interactions and activities
- Increase the risk of falls in older people when rushing to the bathroom
Urinary incontinence can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable condition. However, it is not always inevitable. People whose lives are heavily impacted by urinary inconsistency should consult with their doctor.