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Urinary and Fecal Incontinence

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While urinary and fecal incontinence are often associated with aging for women, that does not mean you have to live with these embarrassing, uncomfortable problems. Read on to learn more about the underlying causes of urinary and fecal incontinence and potential treatment options.

Urinary Incontinence

Very simply, this term refers to the loss of bladder control, leading to urine leakage. For some women, the problem is relatively mild, with a few drops of urine leakage when coughing or sneezing. Other women experience a strong urge to urinate and are unable to get to the bathroom in time.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

Stress incontinence means that urine leaks when stress is placed on the bladder, like when you lift something heavy or sneeze. With urge incontinence, you feel the urge to urinate frequently and may be unable to reach the restroom in time. Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder does not empty, leading to frequent urine leakage. Women with functional incontinence have a physical or mental impairment that prevents them from getting to the bathroom in time when the urge strikes. In addition, for some women, mixed incontinence means they have a combination of these symptoms.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is typically a symptom of an underlying medical problem. Some common causes include:

  • Ingestion of foods and medications that stimulate the bladder
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pressure on the bladder from constipation, pregnancy, or obesity
  • Weakened bladder muscles caused by childbirth or aging
  • Hormonal changes caused by menopause
  • Obstruction, such as a kidney stone
  • Neurological disorder, such as multiple sclerosis

Treatment for Urinary Incontinence

The type of treatment that works best depends on the type of urinary incontinence you experience. For many women, treating the underlying medical cause resolves the incontinence. Your doctor may recommend a combination of behavioral techniques such as timed toileting, pelvic floor exercises, medications, and medical devices. Severe cases of incontinence may require surgery.

Fecal Incontinence

This condition occurs when an individual accidentally passes solid or liquid stool and is unable to get to the restroom in time. It can be caused by diarrhea, damage to the nervous system, chronic illness, or damage to the pelvic floor muscles (commonly from a difficult childbirth).

Risk Factors for Fecal Incontinence

This condition is more common among women, those older than age 40, people with conditions like diabetes or multiple sclerosis that can cause nerve damage, those who are physically disabled, and people who have late-stage Alzheimer's disease.

Treatment Options

As with urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence treatment focuses on correcting the underlying cause of this condition. Treatment options may include medication, dietary changes, bowel training, medical devices, and surgery.

While it may be difficult to talk with your doctor about urinary and fecal incontinence, there is help for this issue. It is important to get medical care so you can identify the underlying medical condition that is causing your incontinence.