Information on the causes of fecal and urinary incontinence (bowel or bladder leakage).

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  1. What is Incontinence?
  2. Diagnosing Incontinence
  3. What causes Incontinence?
  4. Help for Incontinence

What is Incontinence?

Incontinence is the medical term for the involuntary loss of excretory functions or bodily fluids. Urinary incontinence is the most common form of incontinence which occurs when urine leaks out of the bladder and cannot be controlled. There are also many different types of incontinence such as fecal incontinence or stress incontinence. Incontinence typically affects older adults and women, but may also affect children.

It is an extremely embarrassing problem which can bring about a range of emotions such as and fear, loneliness and depression. Seeking treatment for incontinence can improve symptoms as well as address emotional concerns.

There are various types of incontinence and these include:

  • Fecal incontinence
    Fecal incontinence is characterized by the inability to control bowel movements which causes feces (stool) to leak involuntarily from the rectum. This type of incontinence may be caused by constipation, diarrhea, nerve or muscle damage, childbirth or a weakened anal sphincter. It is very embarrassing and most commonly affects older people and women.
  • Stress incontinence
    This form of incontinence is occurs when an individual experiences involuntary leaks of urine after laughing, coughing, sneezing or any type of physical exertion such as lifting or straining. Stress incontinence is caused when the abdominal muscles press down on the bladder and weakens the sphincter muscles. Certain medications, constipation, obesity, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause may contribute to the cause of stress incontinence.
  • Urge incontinence
    Urge incontinence refers to a strong desire to urinate. This occurs because of an overactive bladder which causes contractions and an urgent desire to empty the bladder. Very often individuals with this condition have difficulty reaching the bathroom in time or have to visit the bathroom frequently during the day and at night. Urge incontinence affects elderly people because of aging those who have had surgical procedures performed such as the removal of prostate glands.
  • Overflow incontinence
    This type of incontinence is caused by a constant dribbling of urine due to an overfull bladder. People suffering from overflow incontinence often feel as though they cannot empty their bladders completely. This is the result of blockage of the urinary flow such as an enlarged prostate gland, disease of the nervous system, diabetes or certain medications.
  • Functional incontinence
    This type of incontinence occurs when you have normal urine control but have trouble getting to the bathroom in time. You may not be able to get to the bathroom because of severe arthritis or Alzheimer’s disease that makes it hard to move around. It commonly affects older adults, particularly those in nursing homes.

Diagnosing Incontinence

If you notice any persistent bladder or bowel changes, consult your doctor immediately. The diagnosis for urinary incontinence is based on your symptoms, a physical examination, and a review of your medical history. Keeping a diary of about the type of incontinence, patterns of urination or bowel habits can be useful for your physician.

Certain tests such as a urinalysis and blood tests may be ordered to establish the cause of incontinence. Specialized testing such as a postvoid residual (PVR) measurement, pelvic ultrasound, urodynamic testing, cystogram or cystoscopy may also be performed.

What causes Incontinence?

There are a number of conditions and factors that can cause incontinence and these include:

  • Recurring urinary tract infections
  • Aging
  • Surgical procedures such as the removal of the prostate gland
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Menopause
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Spinal injuries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Senile dementia
  • Certain medications

Help for Incontinence

There are a variety of treatment options to treat or reduce the symptoms of incontinence. Making certain dietary changes such as eliminating spicy foods, sweet foods containing sugar or honey, citrus fruits and tomato based sauces can improve urinary incontinence. Reduce your intake of alcoholic, carbonated and caffeinated beverages.

Monitor how frequently you go to the bathroom and record this information so that you can share it with your physician. Try to urinate before you go to bed and when you wake up first thing in the morning. Practice Kegel exercises (do so by periodically ‘squeezing’ to stop urine flow, then releasing, while urinating) to control urination and strengthen bladder muscles.

Incontinence may be the cause of an underlying disorder, if this is the case, the disorder should be treated first. Medications such as antibiotics are often used to treat incontinence. However antibiotics have also been shown to disrupt the bodies natural ‘good’ bacteria (so always take pro-biotics along with any antibiotics you are prescribed).

More advanced incontinence can be treated with surgery but these procedures carry certain risks such as infection or trauma to nearby organs.

Tips to prevent incontinence
  • Avoid certain foods (spicy foods, high-acid foods or foods containing caffeine) and fluids (citrus juices, carbonated drinks, alcoholic and caffeinated beverages) that may worsen incontinence and eliminate them
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids at once rather sip water throughout the day
  • Eat a high fiber diet as constipation can aggravate incontinence
  • Urinate when you feel the urge as holding it in can weaken the bladder and cause urine leakage
  • Use incontinence pads, panty liners, diapers or absorptive underwear to avoid embarrassing situations
  • Practice Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and help control urinary incontinence
  • Maintain a healthy weight as dramatic weight-loss or weight-gain can release the pressure off the bladder control muscles or put pressure on the bladder
  • Speak to your partner about how incontinence is affecting you
  • Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation or listening to soothing music
  • Stop smoking because smokers are more likely to develop urinary incontinence
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