Involuntary emptying of the bladder during sleep, also known as enuresis

  • Considered abnormal only over the age of 6 years
  • Slightly more common in boys
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Emotional stress is a risk factor

Children normally stop wetting the bed between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Bedwetting is considered a problem only if it persists after the age of 6 or if it starts again after 6 months or more of dryness. At the age of 5, about 1 in 7 children wets the bed regularly. At the age of 10, the number is about 1 in 20. The problem is slightly more common in boys. Some children are late staying dry at night because the section of the nervous system that controls bladder function develops slowly. This developmental delay sometimes runs in families. Other children start to bedwet following stressful events such as divorce. Rarely, the condition develops because of an underlying disorder, such as diabetes mellitus or a urinary tract infection (see Urinary tract infections in children).

What can I do?

The most important factors in helping your child to stop bedwetting are praise, patience, and encouragement. Talking to your child may reveal worries that could be contributing to the problem. Routine visits to the toilet before bedtime are important, and it may be helpful to wake your child at your own bedtime so he or she can pass urine. It may also help to limit the amount your child drinks in the two hours before bedtime and avoid giving caffeinated drinks such as cola. A chart, on which a star is awarded after each dry night, is a visible reminder of progress. If your child is still wetting the bed after the age of 6 or begins to wet after 6 months or more of being dry at night, consult your doctor.

What might the doctor do?

Your doctor may test a urine sample to exclude diabetes mellitus or a urinary tract infection that may require treatment with antibiotics.

Children may be helped to overcome persistent bedwetting with a special pad that triggers a buzzer when they start to pass urine (see Overcoming bedwetting). If your child goes away overnight, a nasal spray that contains desmopressin (see Drugs that affect bladder control) may be prescribed. If bedwetting persists, your child may be referred to a special clinic for advice. With patience and support, most children eventually stop bedwetting.

Self-help: Overcoming Bedwetting

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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