Understanding the Diagnoses Behind Incontinence

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
01/22/14  8:24 PM PST

What Medical Conditions Cause Incontinence?

Incontinence is a possible symptom of many different medical conditions, affecting everyone from children through seniors. With a better understanding of the different diagnoses which may cause incontinence, health care providers can more easily help patients who are unaware of the reason for their incontinence or who are less willing to discuss the issue. Here are some of the most likely diagnoses that can lead to incontinence:

Stroke:  A cerebrovascular accident, commonly known as a stroke, is sudden, localized damage in the brain that results in nervous system (neurologic) deficits. Brain damage from a stroke disrupts the central nervous system’s ability to send the correct signals to the bladder to work properly.

Dementia:  Related to aging, brain damage from dementia can also be disruptive to the central nervous system and its ability to send the correct signals to the bladder so that it can work properly. Dementia is a devastating disease that affects approximately 24 million people worldwide; its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, affects more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease slowly robs individuals of their memory, cognitive functioning, and eventually renders the person almost completely dependent upon others for their daily care. A loss in bodily functioning can lead to urinary and fecal incontinence in those who are affected with dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease:  As the disease progresses, many people with Alzheimer’s begin to experience incontinence, or the inability to control their bladder and/or bowels.

Parkinson’s Disease:  Becoming more common in the later stages of the disease, there are several urinary incontinence problems associated with Parkinson’s including reduced mobility, reduced dexterity to use buttons and zippers, difficulty emptying the bladder, and the instability of the Detrusor muscle, which relaxes to allow the bladder to fill and contracts to expel urine. Often the muscle will contract erratically or involuntarily even with small volumes of urine in the bladder.

Pregnancy/Childbirth (regardless of whether or not you gave birth): It’s not just the weight of the fetus that can cause pregnant women to need to pee more often, or to experience incontinence — it’s also hormonal changes throughout the pregnancy that can cause stress incontinence. After childbirth, weakened muscles that are necessary for bladder control can cause incontinence. While childbirth is often blamed for incontinence later in life for women, those muscles often get weaker over time for women .

Intellectual Disability:  The effect of intellectual disability (also called cognitive disability) on the nervous system can cause incontinence because it interferes with muscle function or the normal sensations that trigger bladder and bowel control.

Autism:  According to Temple Grandin, who is a prominent and widely cited proponent of autistic person’s rights, “There are two major causes of toilet training problems in children with autism. They are either afraid of the toilet or they do not know what they are supposed to do.”

Cerebral Palsy:  Cerebral palsy (CP) refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. CP is caused by damage or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement. Incontinence can be a complication of Cerebral palsy that is caused by poor control of the muscles that keep the bladder closed.

Multiple Sclerosis:  Bladder control problems occur in at least 80% of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Because MS interrupts or slows the transmission of signals to and from the brain, the electrical impulses to the muscles that are involved in emptying the bladder can become disrupted.

Diabetes:  Incontinence due to diabetes is usually due to neuropathy, or nerve damage that is often a complication of diabetes. The nerves around the bladder are no longer able to distinguish when the bladder is full.

For more information about the different types of incontinence, incontinence products and treatment options, click here.



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1 comment

  1. I didn’t know there were so many reasons for incontinence! Thank you for that information. That helps me to
    be more compassionate towards caregivers and the person affected.

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