Incontinence: Why me?

If you've started having bladder control problems, such as leaking urine, you may be thinking, "Why me?" You may also be wondering if it's just a normal part of aging that you'll have to put up with.

There are many reasons why people may have problems with bladder control (also called urinary incontinence), but it is not a normal part of aging. Incontinence is not a disease in itself, but it can be a symptom of a medical condition. Incontinence may be temporary or ongoing, depending on its cause.

Temporary incontinence can be caused by:

  • What you drink: Caffeine or alcohol can quickly increase the amount of urine in your bladder, which can lead to urine leakage. Drinking too much fluid can have a similar effect. Interestingly, not getting enough fluid can also be a problem. If you get dehydrated, your urine will be more concentrated, which can irritate your bladder and lead to leakage. Carbonated drinks, tea, and coffee can also irritate the bladder.
  • Your medications: Certain medications, such as sleeping pills, diuretics ("water pills"), antidepressants, and muscle relaxants, can affect your bladder function, which may lead to incontinence. Check with your pharmacist to see if your medications might be playing a role in your incontinence.
  • Short-term illnesses or injuries: If you are sick or injured and cannot get to the bathroom in time, this can increase your risk of a bladder "accident." Medical conditions that are easily treated but affect your bladder (such as urinary tract infections) or bowels (such as constipation) may also cause temporary incontinence.

Longer-term incontinence can be caused by:

  • Nerve damage: Your bladder relies on nerve signals to function properly. Medical conditions that damage the nerves, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, strokes, or spinal cord injuries, can cause incontinence.
  • Blockages: Anything that blocks the normal flow of urine, such as bladder stones or tumours, can lead to incontinence.
  • Prostate problems: For men, an enlarged prostate, inflammation of the prostate, or prostate cancer (and its treatments) can cause incontinence.
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or hysterectomy: For women, incontinence may be caused by damage to the bladder and its surrounding muscles during pregnancy or childbirth. A hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus) can also damage these muscles.

There are many possible causes for your incontinence - your doctor can help you figure out which factors are involved. It's important to remember that incontinence is not a normal part of getting older, and you do not have to put up with it! Incontinence can be managed - talk to your doctor about what may be causing your incontinence and what you can do to treat it.

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