Women's Services: FAQs
Understanding Urinary Incontinence
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, affects millions of Americans. It is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition.
Urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging; in fact, incontinence can begin at any age.
How does your urinary tract work?
When you take in liquids by eating and drinking, your body absorbs those liquids. Your kidneys are organs located in your upper abdomen. The kidneys
filter waste products from the fluids and make urine. The ureters are narrow tubes that drain the kidneys and carry urine to the bladder. The bladder
is a muscular sac in the lower abdomen that stores urine. When you go to the bathroom, the urine travels out of your bladder through a tube called
the urethra. There is a group of muscles called the urethral sphincter that tighten to hold urine in and loosen to let urine out. When you are ready
to go to the bathroom, you are able to relax the urinary sphincter in order to let urine out.
What causes urinary incontinence?
For some, incontinence can be a temporary condition related to urinary tract infection, vaginal infection, constipation, or medications. Others
have a more chronic form of incontinence, which can be caused by:
- Weakness of muscles that hold bladder in place, weakness of the bladder itself, or weakness of the urinary sphincter muscles
- Overactive bladder muscles
What are the types of urinary incontinence?
- Stress incontinence — Loss of urine with exercise or certain movements. Signs of this type of incontinence are urine leakage associated
with sneezing, coughing, or laughing.
- Urge incontinence — Involuntary loss of urine as soon as you feel the urge to go to the bathroom. Signs include leaking urine on the way
to the bathroom, or when hearing, touching, or drinking liquids.
- Overflow incontinence — Signs of this type of incontinence include the feeling that you are not able to completely empty your bladder and
getting up at night often to urinate.
How do I find what is causing my incontinence?
It is important to see a physician if you are experiencing signs of urinary incontinence. The physician will examine you and ask very specific
questions regarding your urinary habits. You can help in this process by providing a detailed account of your symptoms.
What are some tests I might have?
- You may have blood tests to assess your kidney function, and urine tests to check for the presence of infection or blood.
- X-rays of the kidney and bladder may be done.
- A cystoscope — a small lighted telescope — may be inserted into the bladder by the physician to check for abnormalities in the lower
What types of treatment are there for urinary incontinence?
The type of treatment suggested by your physician will be based upon the type of incontinence you have.
- Behavioral techniques can be of value in correcting incontinence. Bladder training and pelvic muscle exercises are types of behavioral techniques
that are sometimes effective.
- Medications may be used to treat certain types of incontinence, such as incontinence caused by infection or hormone imbalance.
- If the cause of incontinence is found to be an anatomical problem, surgery may be recommended by your physician.
Once the cause of your incontinence has been pinpointed, your physician will be able to discuss with you the various treatment options that are
appropriate for you.
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