Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of large or small amounts of urine. It is thought to affect 13 million Americans and impacts the physical, emotional and financial well being of people and their families.
It's estimated that fewer than half of those who suffer from incontinence seek help for the problem. It is important to know that there is treatment available for incontinence, and that surgery is not the only option.
The kidneys are constantly producing urine. Thin tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, where it is stored. The bladder should stay relaxed while it is filling and the urethra (the tube that expels urine from the bladder) should remain tight. When the decision is made to urinate, the urethra relaxes, the bladder squeezes, and urine flows out.
This is a complex process. The ability to control urination can be disrupted in different ways, resulting in incontinence. Urinary incontinence can occur at any age.
The symptoms of urinary incontinence include:
Urine loss may be a few drops or a large amount.
Waking up frequently at night to urinate, bedwetting or needing to urinate very often during the day also can be signals of a bladder control problem.
There are many possible causes of urinary incontinence. These include:
Some people lose bladder control because of factors not related to the urinary tract. If one is unable to walk to the bathroom, or if arthritis makes removal of clothing difficult, loss of urine may result.
The condition is diagnosed mainly on the pattern of symptoms. Keeping a urinary diary (a record of daily urination, urine accidents and fluid intake) can help your health care provider determine patterns and establish the working diagnosis. The provider will also ask questions about your general health, your history of incontinence, past surgeries, illnesses and any medication you're taking. A physical examination, including a pelvic exam, will be done, and a urine sample will be tested.
Sometimes other, more complicated tests may be needed to establish or confirm the diagnosis or to guide treatment.
People often live with incontinence without seeking help. Many cases can be cured or controlled with appropriate treatment. Urinary incontinence is the second leading cause of institutionalizing elderly people. The problem can contribute to decreased socialization, decreased quality of life and depression. Getting up at night to urinate also increases the risk of falling and fracturing a hip.
The National Association for Continence can send you information or referrals to clinics or providers in your area who specialize in treating incontinence. Call 1(800)BLADDER. Or, contact the UCSF Women's Continence Center at (415) 885-7788 for an appointment.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
Women's Continence Center
2356 Sutter St., Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143-1754
Phone: (415) 885-7788
Toll-free: (877) 366-8532
Fax: (415) 353-9550