What causes incontinence?
Incontinence occurs if the muscles of the bladder or urethra tighten or relax without warning. Many things can make these muscles overactive; Certain foods, drinks and medications can cause temporary urinary incontinence. In some cases, the condition is caused by neurological injuries or diseases. In other cases, bladder conditions such as bladder stones, cancer, infection and inflammation and /or damage to the bladder muscles can cause incontinence. Urinary incontinence can also be a persistent condition caused by underlying physical problems or changes, including:
Aging - Aging bladder muscles decrease the bladder's capacity to store urine and increase overactive bladder symptoms.
Alcohol - Alcohol acts as a bladder stimulant and a diuretic, which can cause an urgent need to urinate.
Bladder conditions - Bladder cancer, bladder stones, bladder infections, interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome), and other infections or bladder damage can cause urinary incontinence, as well as painful and frequent urination.
Diabetes - Diabetes can result in troubles emptying the bladder.
Diet - Carbonated drinks, tea and coffee, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, and foods and beverages that are high in spice, sugar and acid, such as citrus and tomatoes, can aggravate the bladder. Caffeine is a diuretic and a bladder stimulant that can cause a sudden need to urinate.
Constipation - The rectum is located near the bladder and shares many of the same nerves. Hard, compacted stool in the rectum causes these nerves to be overactive and increase urinary frequency.
Hydration - Drinking lots of fluids, especially in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine in your bladder. On the other hand, if you don't consume enough liquid to stay hydrated, urine can become concentrated, which irritates the bladder and worsens incontinence.
Hysterectomy - In women, the bladder and uterus lie close to one another and are supported by the same muscles and ligaments. Any surgery that involves a woman's reproductive system such as the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) can damage the supporting pelvic floor muscles and lead to incontinence.
Medications - Heart medications, blood pressure drugs, sedatives, muscle relaxants and other medications may contribute to bladder control problems.
Neurological disorders - Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, stroke, a brain tumor or a spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals involved in bladder control, causing urinary incontinence.
Obstruction - A tumor or urinary stone anywhere along the urinary tract can obstruct the normal flow of urine and cause incontinence..
Pregnancy and childbirth - Hormonal changes and the increased weight of an enlarging uterus can cause incontinence in pregnant women. In addition, the stress of a vaginal delivery can weaken muscles needed for bladder control or damage bladder nerves and supportive tissue, leading to a dropped (prolapsed) pelvic floor.
Prostate problems - Urinary incontinence can sometimes occur during prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate gland. Furthermore, enlargement of the prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) can cause incontinence in men. Finally, incontinence may be a sign of untreated prostate cancer or a side effect of treatments for prostate cancer (surgery or radiation).
Surgery – Medical conditions that require surgery of the urinary bladder can cause incontinence, because part of the muscle is removed, decreasing the overall volume of the bladder. This is the case for surgical treatment of bladder cancer, for example.
Urinary tract infection - Infections of the urinary tract can irritate the bladder, and create strong urges to urinate.
Risk factors increase the likelihood of experiencing a disease or condition. Some factors might contribute to the development of incontinence of the urinary system. For example, you're at higher risk of developing incontinence if you smoke or are overweight. These factors may increase risk of developing urinary incontinence:
Age - Changes with age increase chances of involuntary urine release. As you get older, the muscles in your bladder and urethra lose some of their strength. Additionally, women after menopause produce less estrogen, a hormone that helps keep the lining of the bladder and urethra healthy. With less estrogen, these tissues may deteriorate, which can aggravate incontinence.
Gender - Women are more likely than men are to experience stress incontinence. In fact, two-thirds of people diagnosed with urinary incontinence are women. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and normal female anatomy account for this difference. However, men with prostate gland problems are at increased risk of urge and overflow incontinence.
Overweight - Being obese or overweight increases pressure on the bladder and surrounding muscles, which weakens them and allows urine to leak out when you cough or sneeze.
Other diseases - Kidney disease or diabetes may increase your risk for incontinence. Risk of overactive bladder also increases if you have blood vessel disease
Smoking – Smokers who develop a chronic cough can cause or aggravate incontinence. Constant coughing puts stress on your urinary sphincter, leading to stress incontinence. Smokers are also at risk of developing overactive bladder.
How can you tell if you are experiencing chronic incontinence versus an acute case of overactive bladder? Read here to learn more about the symptoms of bladder incontinence in the Incontinence Symptoms section that follows.
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