Incontinence is a symptom

Start a conversation about incontinence and there’s bound to be a red face or two, some silly jokes, and a quick change of subject. Very few people are genuinely inclined to discuss incontinence – theirs or anyone else’s – leaving many sufferers clueless about incontinence causes and treatment.

If you think it’s just old ladies who have weak bladders, think again. All types of incontinence can be found in young and old, healthy and ailing, male and female. It’s caused by everyday habits, underlying medical conditions, physical issues and even as the result of an unlucky genetic draw.

Unfortunately, statistics show that women are more prone to light leakage than men. A woman’s urinary system is more internalised than a man’s – so when events like pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomy, and menopause occur, they can disrupt the female bladder muscle structure.

Some of the biggest causes of female incontinence are:

  • Weakened and stretched pelvic floor muscles (sometimes resulting in prolapse) from pregnancy and childbirth
  • Thinning and drying of the skin in the vagina or urethra, especially after menopause
  • Certain medications
  • Constipation
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vascular disease
  • Diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Many of the causes of incontinence are fixable – meaning light leakage goes away once the causes are identified and action is taken. For example, mothers can take steps to reverse damage done during childbirth by regularly doing pelvic floor exercises to regain pre-birth strength and firmness.

Other temporary incontinence causes are certain foods, drink and medications. In these cases, a simple change in habits may sort out the problem.

Causes of temporary urinary incontinence

Alcohol and coffee act as bladder stimulants and diuretics, which can cause an overwhelming need to visit the bathroom.

Drinking too much fluid, especially in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine you have to hold, resulting in more frequent dashes to the toilet.

Dehydration from not drinking enough liquid can cause your urine to become very concentrated. This collection of concentrated salts can irritate your bladder and make incontinence worse.

Bladder irritation from drinking carbonated drinks, artificial sweeteners, tea and coffee (with or without caffeine). Foods can also irritate the bladder, especially if they contain high amounts of corn syrup, spices, sugar and acid, such as citrus or tomatoes.

Medications such as heart medications, blood pressure drugs, sedatives, muscle relaxants and other medications are known to sometimes be causes of incontinence.

Some easily treatable medical conditions are also incontinence causes

Urinary tract infections can cause strong urges to wee, often at inconvenient moments. These urges may result in stress incontinence and may be the only warning sign of a urinary tract infection.

Other possible signs and symptoms include a burning sensation when passing, and foul-smelling urine. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

Constipation can cause incontinence because your rectum is located near the bladder and shares many of the same nerves. Hard, compacted stool in your rectum causes these nerves to be overactive and increase the need to urinate. Ask your doctor about what you can do to relieve constipation.

Causes of persistent incontinence

Pregnancy is one of the common causes of stress incontinence. Hormonal changes and the increased weight of a growing baby bears down on the balloon-like bladder, making it smaller and so unable to hold its usual amount of liquid.

Vaginal delivery often causes a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that support and control the bladder. The baby’s passage through the vagina can damage nerves and supportive tissue. This loss of connectivity can cause also cause prolapse.

Aging of bladder muscles reduces urine storage capacity and increases the symptoms of an overactive bladder. The risk of over-activity goes up if you have blood vessel disease. Maintaining good overall health can help reduce causes and symptoms of an overactive bladder.

Menopause causes a drop in oestrogen – an important hormone for helping the lining of the bladder and urethra to stay strong and healthy.

Hysterectomy can be one of the causes of incontinence as the bladder and uterus are close to one another and are supported by the same muscles and ligaments. Any surgery involving your reproductive system runs the risk of damaging the supporting pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence.

Painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis) is a rare, chronic condition that occasionally causes light leakage, as well as painful and frequent urination.

Bladder cancer or stones can cause incontinence, urinary urgency and burning with urination. All of these can be signs and symptoms of cancer or stones. Other signs include blood in the urine and pelvic pain. If you suffer from these signs, see your doctor immediately.

Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, a brain tumour or a spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals involved in bladder control, thereby causing urinary incontinence.

Obstructions such as urinary stones or a tumour can interfere with the normal flow of urine and is one of the more serious causes of incontinence – usually overflow.

Medical conditions such as hypercalcemia (high calcium levels), hyperglycaemia (high sugar levels), diabetes insipidus, congestive heart failure, leg oedema (swelling), and vein insufficiency, can lead to incontinence by rapid over- filling of the bladder. Increased sugar levels in the bladder can irritate the bladder muscle and can lead to incontinence.

Decreased or limited mobility can cause incontinence and can frequently be corrected or improved by treating the underlying problem (e.g., arthritis, poor eyesight, Parkinson’s disease, or orthostatic hypotension).

Find the cause and to find the treatment

Often urine leakage can be very successfully treated or cured, depending on the underlying cause. At the very least, it can be discreetly managed with Poise liners and pads – letting you can go about your day without worrying about light bladder leakage.

Be sure and pinpoint the cause of urinary incontinence with a visit to your GP and a read through our online female incontinence articles.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health care professional with any questions regarding your concerns.