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What is Urge Incontinence and How Do You Treat it?

Sometimes called overactive bladder, urge incontinence occurs when you get an uncontrollable need to urinate and your bladder may leak before you can get to a toilet. It’s usually due to involuntary bladder contractions and is more common than you think.

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Symptoms of urge incontinence

Common symptoms of urge incontinence include:

  • A sudden urgency to urinate
  • Needing to wee more often
  • A little leakage if you don’t make it to the toilet in time
  • Needing to use the loo at least twice during the night

Urge incontinence is the second most common type of this condition after stress incontinence, and it is more likely to affect women. This type of incontinence occurs when your bladder contracts without you intentionally wanting it to, leaving you little or no time to get to the toilet.

Urge incontinence is also called overactive bladder syndrome, or unstable bladder. It can cause you to leak large amounts of urine, often when you are asleep.

When your bladder is functioning normally, the muscle is generally relaxed while the bladder fills. When it gets to about 50% full, you may start to feel an urge to use the toilet. Once you have felt the need to urinate, you still have some time to get to the loo before your bladder starts to leak.

If you suffer from an overactive bladder, or urge incontinence, the brain seems to give the incorrect message to the bladder, telling it to empty now, even though it is not particularly full. As a result, you will suddenly need to use the toilet.

Causes of an overactive bladder

Urge incontinence is normally caused by an underlying ailment, such as bladder stones, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), effects from a stroke, or a bladder infection. Weak pelvic muscles, that may be stretched from pregnancy or childbirth, may be the cause. Nerve damage, caused by back injuries, may also be the cause of an overactive bladder.

Women who have gone through menopause may develop urge incontinence due to a lack of oestrogen causing the thinning of the urethral tissues. Another reason urge incontinence may develop is that the part of the brain that controls urination may undergo changes, making it send the wrong messages.

These conditions may cause urge incontinence:

  • UTIs (urinary tract infections)
  • Parkinson’s
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke
  • Constipation
  • Multiple sclerosis

If you notice a burning sensation accompanied by a strange odour when you urinate, there is a good chance that a urinary infection is causing your urge incontinence.

Urge incontinence treatments

Urge incontinence shouldn’t be a reason to change your lifestyle. Although it cannot always be completely cured, there are plenty of ways you can manage it and continue living your life as normal.

The treatment option you choose for your urge incontinence will normally depend on the severity of your condition and the quantity of urine you leak each day. Your doctor will usually start treating the ailment with the least invasive option.

As urge incontinence is normally a result of another underlying condition, that condition needs to be correctly identified and treated. There is no reason to let urge incontinence impact your quality of life, so do seek medical advice to ensure you can manage the condition in a way that suits you.

Managing urge incontinence

Here are the most commonly used techniques, exercises and tips to manage urge incontinence:

Bladder training

This widely used technique strengthens and enhances the bladder’s elasticity. If done correctly, training can also increase the bladder’s capacity and stop it from being overactive. This means that the time between the feeling that you need to go to the toilet and actually urinating can be increased.

With bladder training, you gradually increase the amount of time between your visits to the bathroom. For example, if you usually go to the bathroom every hour, try to hold on for an extra five minutes, then an extra 10 and so on.

The longer the interval you can achieve between feeling the urge to urinate and going to the toilet, the greater your bladder control will become.

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscle tissue surrounding the bladder and can alleviate an overactive bladder in some circumstances. You can locate your pelvic floor muscles if you try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet.

To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times in a row. Try to avoid holding your breath, or tightening your stomach, buttocks, or thigh muscles.

Lifestyle changes

There are several things you can change in your everyday life to lessen the severity of urge incontinence. These changes include:

  • Making the route to your toilet as easy and simple as possible.
  • Avoiding caffeine as much as possible. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more. It can also irritate your bladder.
  • Contrary to what you might believe, you shouldn’t reduce your intake of water. If you do this, your urine may become concentrated which can also irritate your bladder.
  • Try only going to the toilet when you really need to. If you go too often, you may reduce the amount of urine your bladder can hold.
  • Ensure you follow a healthy diet. Acidic and spicy foods can make symptoms worse and being overweight can put pressure on your bladder.

Medication

A group of medicines called antimuscarinics have been found to be effective in combating urge incontinence. These medications block certain nerve impulses, which in turn relax the bladder. Normally medication is used in conjunction with one of the other remedies listed here. Before starting a course of medication, talk with your doctor to ensure it is right for you.

Incontinence products

There are various incontinence products available to help you manage urge incontinence. Depend® offers a selection of pants and pads for men and women. Order a free sample to see which is best for you.

Surgery

Surgery can be an effective treatment for urge incontinence. This may be performed to increase your bladder’s size, or reduce its activity. In most cases, surgery is a last resort option if all other incontinence treatment options have failed.

You’re not alone

Recent studies put the number of people worldwide suffering from urge incontinence at between 50 and 100 million, so if you suffer from an overactive bladder you are far from alone.

Urge incontinence can cause stress and disruption, but you’re not alone and, with the right treatment and advice from your doctor, you can continue with your life with confidence.

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