By Sarah Jane Duffy, Boomerang staff writer
You can't watch two hours of television without seeing a commercial for a product to treat or live with urinary incontinence, yet it is a subject that many people feel painfully uncomfortable discussing. Approximately 25 million adults in the U.S. live with incontinence, and it is more prevalent in women over age 50. After age 80, just as many men as women experience it, and it is one of the most common reasons people seek nursing home or assisted living care.
Studies show that urinary incontinence, or the inability to control the bladder, is not a normal part of aging and often is reversible. It is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom of another, often temporary and treatable condition or ailment. While it is more common in older people, aging does not cause incontinence. However, body changes can reduce how much urine your bladder can hold, which can lead to incontinence when another condition affects how well you can hold it.
There are four types of incontinence:
- Overactive bladder or urge incontinence, the most common type of incontinence among older adults, occurs when the bladder contracts without your brain sending the signal to do so. Thus, the need to urinate comes on too fast. Causes may include bladder or urinary tract infections, bladder irritants, stroke and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis.
- Stress incontinence is when urine leaks because of sudden pressure on your lower stomach muscles, such as when you cough, laugh, sneeze, lift something or exercise. The most common causes are weakened pelvic muscles (e.g., from childbirth or surgery), being overweight or the removal of the prostate gland. It is more common in women.
- Functional incontinence occurs when you have normal urine control but have trouble getting to the bathroom in time because of limited mobility. People who suffer from this may have dementia, arthritis or other diseases or conditions that make it hard to move around.
- Overflow incontinence is a frequent or constant dripping of urine caused by an overfilled bladder. You may feel like you can't empty your bladder and strain when urinating. This often occurs in men and can be caused by something blocking the urinary flow, such as an enlarged prostate gland or tumor. Diabetes or certain medicines may also contribute to this problem.
Nearly all types of urinary incontinence are treatable at any age. Treatment depends on what type of incontinence you have, so talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options. If your urinary incontinence is caused by a medical problem, the incontinence usually will go away when the problem is treated. Certain types of exercises and bladder training can help other types of incontinence. Even losing a little a weight can make a difference. Certain heart medications can make incontinence worse, so ask your doctor if any of your prescriptions increase your risk. Medicine and surgery are other treatment options, but should be considered only after all other options are exhausted.
You also may be able to control incontinence through changing some habits. Certain foods and beverages - including caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, spices, carbonated drinks and acidic foods and drinks (like tomatoes and citrus fruits) -can irritate the bladder and worsen leaks. Smoking also increases your risk.
Incontinence is not an age-related condition, but it negatively affects the lives of millions of older adults. The good news is, it can be treated, and if it affects you, you don't necessarily just have to live with it.
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