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De-Stigmatizing Urinary Incontinence

By Michael Plontz

(Page 1 of 3)

Too often caregivers feel that their loved oneís incontinence is a natural result of aging, dementia, medication or disability. They may not seek help because they assume that nothing can be done. But that might not be entirely true. Letís learn about this too-little-talked-about condition.

First of all, we need a basic anatomy lesson. The urinary system contains a urethra, a bladder, two ureters, and two kidneys. A circular muscle called the sphincter can play a role in incontinence, but it is not an official part of the urinary system. The kidneys remove waste from the blood and turn it into urine. The muscular ureter tubes move the urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The balloon-like bladder stores the urine until itís released through the urethra. If any part of this system malfunctions, incontinence could occur.

More often than not, incontinence in women occurs because of problems with muscles that aid in holding or releasing urine. While urinating, bladder wall muscles contract, forcing urine from the bladder into the urethra. While this is happening, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass from the body. If bladder muscles suddenly contract or muscles surrounding the urethra suddenly relax, incontinence will occur.

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Many things can cause incontinenceósome temporary, some not. The temporary causes may include constipation, medication side effects, urinary tract infections, and vaginal irritation or infection. Causes that arenít temporary could include a weak bladder, weak urethral sphincter muscles, weak pelvic floor muscles due to pregnancy and childbirth, overactive bladder muscles, nerve disorders, immobility, a blocked urethra(sometimes because of an enlarged prostate), or a hormonal imbalance(especially in menopausal women). As you might be able to deduce from that list, twice as many women experience incontinence as men.

There are several types of incontinence: stress incontinence, functional incontinence, overflow incontinence, and urge incontinence. If your loved one has a combination of two or more types, they are said to have mixed incontinence. Another type, transient incontinence, is the temporary type, triggered by the temporary causes in the previous paragraph. Letís explore the different types in more detail.

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