What causes bladder leakage?
Did you know that one in four women experience some degree of bladder leakage at some point in their lives? A weak bladder and resulting incontinence is more common than you think. In fact it can affect anyone at any age, young or old, but women more so than men.
Some women learn quickly to bring bladder leakage under control by sitting down or crossing their legs tightly. While for others, incontinence may be a sudden urge to go to the toilet, followed by significant leakage.
Understanding the type of bladder leakage (or urinary incontinence) you have, what causes a weak bladder and how to fix, or at the very least, manage it, should be a priority so you can get on with your everyday life.
A quick look at the different types of incontinence
There are three main types of incontinence including:
- Stress incontinence is physical stress or pressure on your bladder and can be caused by a cough, a sneeze or even a laugh.
- Urge incontinence is the inability to hold on for more than a few minutes once you have a sudden overwhelming need to urinate.
- Overflow incontinence is characterised by leaking with no warning or urge to urinate.
Having a weak bladder is something that you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about. It’s very manageable and very common with around 4% of all adults and 25% of all women over 40 having suffered from some kind of incontinence.
If your bladder leakage is light, it’s quite simple to manage with the use of incontinence products like the Depend® range of guards and underwear specifically designed for urinary incontinence. You can also be prepared for mishaps by keeping a change of clothes and underwear handy just in case.
What causes a bladder leakage?
There are lots of potential causes of a weak bladder and subsequent bladder leakage. They can range from weakened pelvic muscles from childbirth, to bladder or prostate cancer.
Nine times out of ten though, your bladder leaks because your pelvic floor muscles have weakened over time. If you’re a woman, it’s usually because of pregnancy, childbirth or the onset of menopause.
Here are some other reasons for bladder leakage:
- Aging and a weakening of muscle control
- Obstructions in urinary tract (e.g. tumours)
- UTIs (urinary tract infections)
- Bladder infection
- Kidney infections
- Bladder cancer and prostate cancer
- Bladder and kidney stones
- Enlarged prostate
- Nervous system afflictions including: Spinal cord injury, Stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis
- Nerve damage or trauma caused by surgery or certain therapies
- Spinal injury
- Trauma to the pelvis (e.g. after a car accident)
A note for men
The primary reason for incontinence in men is due to an enlarged prostate. You should see your doctor as soon as possible to ensure your symptoms aren’t masking something more serious.
How do I stop bladder leakage?
As you can see from the list above, there are many things that can cause a weak bladder and subsequently lead to bladder leakage. Consequently, there are quite a few options to consider depending on the type of incontinence you have.
The first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. It’s a common condition that’s easily managed and can often be cured altogether.
However, if you find the following methods aren’t helping, there may be another underlying medical problem causing bladder leakage. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your bladder leakage.
Here are some solutions you may find can help you.
One of the simplest ways to manage incontinence, whether temporary or ongoing, is to use the Depend® range of incontinence products. You can choose from comfortable briefs, pads, guards and shields. And they are all designed to deal with everything from a light flow to heavy, thanks to their super absorbency.
- Make it easy to get to the toilet. Remove any obstacles preventing you from getting to the toilet quickly. If mobility is an issue, consider in-home adaptations like handrails or a raised seat in your toilet; a commode in the bedroom is also a good idea.
- Cut out or reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee, tea, cola, and some painkillers contain caffeine, which has a diuretic effect (makes you wee more often). Caffeine itself may also directly stimulate your bladder making urgency symptoms worse. Try going a while without caffeine and see if your condition improves. If it does, it doesn’t mean the end of your morning coffee or your afternoon cuppa, it just means be close to a toilet when you have a drink.
- Alcohol. Some people are affected by alcohol in the same way that others are affected by caffeine. Again, try going a while without an alcoholic drink and see if your incontinence improves.
- Drink normal quantities of fluids. Drinking less may seem like a good idea, but in reality it actually makes your symptoms worse. That’s because your urine becomes more concentrated, which can irritate the bladder muscle. Aim to drink about two litres of fluid per day — about six to eight glasses, and more in hot conditions.
- Go to the toilet only when you need to. Don’t go to the toilet more often than you need to. You may think it’s a good idea to go often so as not to be ‘caught short,’ but all this does is promote an overactive bladder and make your symptoms worse in the long run. It also means your bladder becomes used to holding less urine making it even more sensitive and overactive at times when you need to hold on a bit longer.
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight, it can put additional strain on your pelvic floor muscles and bladder.
- Check your medications. If you’re taking medications like antihistamines, tricyclics (antidepressants), or blood pressure tablets, they can interfere with muscle contraction in the bladder and urethral sphincter, making incontinence even worse. Ask your doctor about bladder-friendly alternatives.
Kegel exercises (pelvic floor exercises) are the main treatment for stress incontinence. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus (womb) and rectum. Pelvic floor exercises also help if you are doing bladder training.
Kegels are a mainstay of incontinence therapy. Women with stress incontinence who consistently do Kegel exercises experience a 70% improvement in symptoms, and experts believe building these muscles may also help with urge incontinence. Kegels work by thickening the muscles that hold your bladder, urethra and other organs in place.
When you start, try contracting your pelvic-floor muscles for five seconds, and then relax them for five seconds, repeat this five times, 10 to 20 times a day.
For those with urge incontinence, bladder training may help. With this form of therapy you make yourself wait when you feel the urge to urinate, gradually increasing the intervals between bathroom trips. It’s a good idea to keep a bladder diary to track your progress.
This is a flexible silicone ring inserted into your vagina where it pushes up on the vaginal wall and urethra to help support the bladder and uterus. A doctor or nurse can fit one for you, but you’ll need regular check ups to make sure it doesn't irritate your vagina.
This painless process involves delivering gentle volts of electricity, through a vaginal probe to activate and strengthen pelvic-floor muscles. Sometimes, (and used only for urge incontinence), a device is implanted under the skin of the upper buttock to stimulate the sacral nerve, which connects to the bladder and pelvic floor.
If things don’t improve with bladder training, there are some medications called antimuscarinics (also called anticholinergics) which your doctor may recommend.
The drugs work by blocking certain nerve impulses to the bladder to help you increase your bladder’s capacity.
It works well if you take the medication in combination with bladder training. A common plan is to try a course of medication for a month or so. If it helps, you may be advised to continue for around six months and then stop altogether to see how symptoms are without the medication.
By combining a course of medication with bladder training, the long-term outlook may be better and symptoms may be less likely to return when you stop the medication.
Kimberly-Clark makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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