Urge Incontinence

Repeated episodes of involuntary loss of urine preceded by a sudden, urgent need to empty the bladder

  • More common with increasing age
  • More common in females
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

A person with urge incontinence feels a sudden, urgent need to pass urine that is followed by involuntary loss of urine. This condition varies in severity. At its mildest, the person is usually able to reach a toilet before the bladder starts to empty. However, if the condition is severe, it can be impossible to stop the flow of urine voluntarily once the bladder has begun to empty.

What are the causes?

Urge incontinence is most commonly caused by irritability of the muscle that forms the bladder wall. When irritated, the muscle contracts involuntarily and empties the bladder. Irritability of the bladder muscle can be due to infection or inflammation of the bladder lining (see Cystitis).

Urge incontinence can also be due to disorders such as bladder stones. Other causes are disorders that affect the nervous system, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or spinal injury. Some cases are thought to be linked to anxiety.

What might be done?

You will be asked to keep a record of how often you need to pass urine, the amount of urine passed each time, and how much fluid you drink. You may also need to provide a sample of your urine, which will be checked for evidence of infection. In addition, your doctor will carry out a physical examination to look for an underlying disorder and may refer you to hospital for further investigations.

Any underlying cause of urge incontinence should be treated first. If no underlying disorder is found, there are several self-help measures that you can try. For example, you can learn to control your bladder function by extending the intervals between the times when you pass urine. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that control the bladder outlet. If you smoke, you should try to stop since smoking is known to irritate the bladder. It is also advisable to avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol. In addition, you may be given an anticholinergic drug such as oxybutynin, which relaxes the muscle in the bladder wall and thereby increases bladder capacity and reduces the urge to urinate (see Drugs that affect bladder control).

Self-help: Pelvic Floor Exercises

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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