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What Is Incontinence?

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
11/12/13  7:32 PM PST

Incontinence is partial or complete loss of bladder and/or bowel control. It is neither a disease nor a syndrome, but a condition. Incontinence is frequently a symptom of other medical issues, and sometimes the result of certain medications.  Incontinence affects more than 25 million people in the United States, and one out of every three people will experience a loss of bladder control at some point in their lives.

Bladder Health Statistics

  • Urinary incontinence affects 25 million Americans
  • One out of every three people between the ages of 30 and 70 have experienced loss of bladder control
  • More than 30% women over the age of 45 – and more than 50% of women over the age of 65 – have stress urinary incontinence
  • 50% of men report leakage from stress urinary incontinence following prostate surgery
  • 33 million people suffer from overactive bladder
  • There are more than 4 million doctor’s office visits each year for urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Pelvic organ prolapse affects 3.3 million women in the United States
  • 19 million men have symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia

Incontinence affects men and women worldwide, of all ages and all backgrounds. It can be distressing and embarrassing to deal with, causing individuals and loved ones a great deal of anxiety. Some types of incontinence are permanent, while others may only be temporary. Managing incontinence and gaining control over it begins with understanding why it happens.

Types of Incontinence

There are five types of incontinence:

  1. Urge Incontinence. Individuals with urge incontinence feel a sudden, intense urge to urinate, quickly followed by an uncontrollable loss of urine. The bladder muscle contracts suddenly, giving a warning of sometimes only a few seconds. This can be caused by a number of different conditions, including strokes, cerebral vascular disease, brain injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, among others. Infections or inflammation caused by urinary tract infections,  bladder or bowel problems or a prolapsed uterus may also cause urge incontinence.
  2. Stress Incontinence. Individuals with stress incontinence lose urine when the bladder is pressured – or “stressed” – by internal abdominal pressure, such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, exercising or lifting something heavy. This usually happens when the sphincter muscle of the bladder has been weakened by anatomical changes, such as childbirth, aging, menopause, UTIs, radiation damage, urological or prostate surgery. For individuals with stress incontinence, the pressure in the bladder is temporarily greater than the urethral pressure, causing involuntary urine loss.
  3. Overflow Incontinence. Individuals with overflow incontinence are unable to completely empty their bladder. This leads to a bladder that becomes so full that bladder muscles can no longer contract in a normal manner, and urine frequently overflows. Causes of overflow incontinence  include an obstruction in the bladder or urethra, a damaged bladder, prostate gland problems, or impaired sensory input to the bladder – such as nerve damage from diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis or spinal cord injury.
  4. Functional Incontinence. Individuals with functional incontinence have a urinary system that works normally most of the time – they simply do not make it to the bathroom in time.  Functional incontinence is frequently a result of physical or mental impairment. Physical and mental limitations that cause functional incontinence may include severe arthritis, injury, muscle weakness, Alzheimer’s and depression, among others.
  5. Iatrogenic Incontinence. Iatrogenic incontinence is drug-induced incontinence. Some drugs, such as muscle relaxants and nervous system blockers, may result in weakening the sphincter muscle. Other drugs, such as antihistamines, may block the normal transmission of nerve impulses to and from the bladder.

When discussing incontinence, you might also hear the terms “mixed” or “total” incontinence. The term “mixed incontinence” is frequently used when an individual experiences symptoms of more than one type of incontinence. “Total incontinence” is a term sometime used to describe a total loss of urinary control, resulting in the continuous leaking of urine throughout the day and night.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for urinary incontinence depend on its type and severity, as well as its underlying cause. Your doctor may recommend bladder training, diet management, physical therapy or medications. In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery, injections or medical devices as part of treatment.

Whether your incontinence is permanent, treatable or curable, there are many products available to help individuals manage their symptoms and gain control over their lives. Products that help contain urine, protect skin, promote self-care and allow for the normal activities of day-to-day life are an important part of treatment.

Incontinence Products

Your doctor may suggest any of the following incontinence products to help manage symptoms:

Shields, Liners or Pads: These are recommended for light to moderate loss of bladder control, and are worn inside your own undergarments.  They come in discreet, form-fitting shapes  that conform closely to the body, and adhesive strips hold them in place inside your preferred undergarment.

Undergarments: Describing products such as adult pull ups and belted shields, these are recommended for moderate to heavy loss of bladder control.  They provide high-volume leakage protection while being virtually undetectable under clothing.

Diapers or Briefs: These are recommended for heavy to complete loss of bladder or bowel control.  They are secured by side tabs, and are normally made from highly absorbent and lightweight materials.

Drip Collectors (male): These slip over and around the penis to absorb small amounts of urine.  They are designed to be used in close-fitting underwear.

Underpads: These absorbent pads are recommended for surface protection.  Flat and rectangular in shape, they provide additional wetness protection on bedding, sofas, chairs and other surfaces.

Quilted Waterproof Sheeting: These flat, waterproof quilted sheets protect mattresses by preventing passage of fluids.

Moisturizing Cream: A protective moisturizer that is designed to protect skin from damage by urine or stool. This cream lubricates and softens dry skin while protecting and promoting healing.

Barrier Spray: Barrier spray forms a thin film that protects skin from irritation caused by exposure to urine or stool.  When used regularly barrier spray reduces risk of skin breakdown.

Skin Cleansers: Skin cleansers neutralize and deodorize skin from urine and stool odors.  Skin cleansers are designed to be gentle and non-irritating, and they do not interfere with normal skin pH.

Adhesive Removers: Adhesive removers gently dissolve barrier film on skin.

For more information on incontinence products and bladder health, visit Shield HealthCare’s online Incontinence Community.

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ramiro O.
    Posted December 11, 2015 at 7:20 pm PDT

    My Mother has problems with urine infection . That’s causing her to walking and she been disenezz and light headed they gave her some medicine but when she finish her medicine she doing good for couple of months than she gets the infection back what would you advise me to .

  2. Aimee Sharp
    Posted December 14, 2015 at 9:32 am PDT

    Hi Ramiro. Thanks for commenting. We would recommend speaking to your mother’s doctor about this, and possibly getting a second opinion. In addition, you may find this article about preventing urinary tract infections helpful. Again, thank you for commenting. -Aimee, Shield HealthCare

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