Incontinence 101

Just found out you have urinary incontinence? Or maybe you just want a quick refresher. Here's a quick guide of what you need to know about incontinence.

What is incontinence?

Incontinence is the loss of bladder control, so you lose urine when you don't want to.

What causes incontinence?

There are a variety of causes of incontinence, including but not limited to:

  • constipation
  • urinary tract infections
  • blockage in the urinary tract, such as urinary stones
  • weak pelvic floor muscles
  • weak urinary sphincter (the valve that controls urine flow)
  • certain medications
  • certain foods (e.g., caffeine, alcohol)
  • pregnancy or childbirth
  • diseases and conditions that affect your nervous system, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or diabetes
  • surgery to the area (e.g., bladder, reproductive organs)

Read more about the causes of incontinence.

What are the different types of incontinence?

The most common types of incontinence are:

  • Stress incontinence. With stress incontinence, you leak urine when you put pressure on your bladder, such as when you laugh, cough, or lift a heavy object.
  • Urge incontinence. Urge incontinence is when urine leaks because of a sudden, intense urge to go to the bathroom.
  • Overflow incontinence. Overflow incontinence is when there is a constant or frequent dribble of urine, which occurs when the bladder is overfilled.

Some people experience a mix of different types of incontinence. For example, they may have urge incontinence but also experience stress incontinence. Learn more about the types of incontinence.

How common is incontinence?

Incontinence is a lot more common than you probably think. Over 3.3 million Canadian adults have incontinence - that's about 10% of the population! Among people over age 40, 16% of men have symptoms of urinary incontinence and 33% of women have symptoms of urinary incontinence. About 1 in 5 seniors have urinary incontinence.

What management options are available?

Incontinence can be managed, treated, and even cured in some instances. The management options include:

  • Absorbent products, which are designed to trap and hold urine.
  • Behavioural treatments, including lifestyle changes (e.g., weight loss) and pelvic floor muscle exercises (called Kegel exercises).
  • Medical devices, including pessaries for women (the device is inserted into the vagina to support the bladder and uterus) and penile compression devices for men (a clamp placed around the penis to compress the urethra).
  • Medications, often used together with behavioural treatments to treat urinary incontinence. Your doctor will determine which medication is best for you based on the type and severity of incontinence you have.
  • Surgery.

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