• Basics

    Urinary incontinence is the loss of control over urination Figure 01. Urinary incontinence affects more than 15 million Americans, particularly women and the elderly. The condition exacts a considerable toll on quality of life, interfering with work, social activities, and sex. Many people who suffer from urinary incontinence are too embarrassed to seek help, or think that the condition is just part of the aging process.

    Click to enlarge: The urinary system

    Figure 01. The urinary system

    In the majority of cases, urinary incontinence can be cured or controlled.

  • Causes

    In urinary incontinence, the organs and muscles that govern urination fail to work properly. Your bladder relaxes as it fills with urine produced by your kidneys. The bladder stores urine until it is full. Messages are then relayed to your brain, which lets you know you need to urinate. At this point, you can decide to hold in the urine by tightening your urinary sphincter (the muscle that controls the opening from your bladder) to the tube through which urine leaves your body (the urethra) or let it out by relaxing your sphincter. Your bladder muscles will then contract to expel the urine. However, if you have developed incontinence, this process gets disrupted somewhere along the way. A variety of things could be responsible:

    • A urinary tract infection.
    • A side effect of medication, such as a diuretic for high blood pressure, a calcium channel blocker for heart disease, or a sedative for a sleep disorder.
    • Impaired nerve transmission resulting from diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or another illness.
    • Brain changes from a stroke, or confusion from dementia.
    • Hormonal changes during pregnancy, after childbirth, and during menopause are a frequent cause of incontinence in women.
    • In men, an enlarged prostate gland or surgery to remove a prostate gland.
    • Excess caffeine and alcohol intake.
    • Spinal cord injuries and pelvic trauma.

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I'm Shereen A. Gharbia, PharmD. Welcome to PDR Health!

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