Incontinence? Here’s Help

Incontinence? Here's Help

People with stress incontinence may experience leakage when coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, lifting and performing other kinds of strenuous activity.

Of the estimated 19 million North American adults who have urinary incontinence, 80 percent are women. It’s important to understand that incontinence is not an inevitable part of aging, nor is it necessary to accept long-term incontinence after bearing a child. In many cases, it can be cured, and it can always be managed.

Understanding Contributing Factors to Female Incontinence

There are many factors that can contribute to incontinence. Some common causes:

*Short Term:

Urinary tract and bladder infections, constipation and medication side-effects are some of the most readily treated causes of short-term incontinence. Following a visit to your physician, relief is usually quick.

*Long Term:

Childbirth, auto accidents or surgical procedures can sometimes cause long-term incontinence. Recovery from these causes may affect the rate at which continence is restored.


Birth defects, progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic conditions may require ongoing management of the related symptom of incontinence.

Understanding the Forms of Incontinence

Incontinence affects different individuals in different ways. Common forms of urinary incontinence include:


People with stress incontinence may experience leakage when coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, lifting and performing other kinds of strenuous activity. Childbirth and some surgeries can weaken the pelvic floor (the muscles under the bladder) allowing urine to escape when the abdomen is under stress. Young women often experience this form of incontinence.


People with urge incontinence lose larger amounts of urine. They feel as if they can’t reach the bathroom fast enough. Many women experience urge incontinence caused by infections that irritate the bladder or urethra, or cause muscle spasms which force the urine out of the bladder. Constipation can also cause urge incontinence. Still others experience urge incontinence through the loss of muscle control caused by strokes, spinal cord injury, dementia and diseases that affect the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.


Many women experience both stress and urge incontinence at different times or under different circumstances. The causes of the two forms may or may not be related, and should be evaluated separately.

Less common forms of incontinence include:


Some women either do not get the urge to urinate or have a blockage in the urethra (the tube that passes from the bladder out of the body). In both of these instances, the bladder never completely empties, and when it overfills, excess urine is forced out. Nervous system disorders and spinal cord injuries are frequent causes of overflow incontinence.


People who are unable or unwilling to use a toilet are functionally incontinent. Examples include severe arthritis or confusion brought on by other illnesses that prevents a person from using a toilet without assistance.


Total incontinence is rare. A birth defect or injury may cause urine to leak from the body uncontrollably. Some people with dementia may lose bladder control only during the night. Dementia is the result of any number of illnesses that cause mental deterioration, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.


Some medications may cause incontinence by relaxing muscles or by blocking signals sent from a full bladder to the brain. In these instances, your doctor may change your medications to eliminate the side-effects.

Visit and get answers from experts on treatment options for both men and women, as well as caregiver support. Note: New Depend for Women underwear will be available in stores starting April 2009.

Read an article in Dallas News relating to adult underwear.

Photo:  Dr. Hemmert