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 Medical Self-Care: Urinary Incontinence in Adults: Acute and Chronic Management 

You may also...

  • Go to the bathroom often during the day to avoid accidents

Overflow incontinence:
People with overflow incontinence may feel that they never completely empty their bladder. If you have overflow incontinence, you may:
  • Often lose small amounts of urine during the day and night
  • Get up often during the night to go to the bathroom
  • Often feel as if you have to empty your bladder but can't
  • Pass only a small amount of urine but feel as if your bladder is still partly full
  • Spend a long time at the toilet, but produce only a weak, dribbling stream of urine

Some people with overflow incontinence do not have the feeling of fullness, but they lose urine day and night.

Finding the Cause of Urinary Incontinence
Once you tell your health care provider about the problem, finding the cause of your urinary incontinence is the next step.

Your health care provider will talk with you about your medical history and urinary habits. You may be asked to keep a record of your usual habits in a bladder record (see Sample Bladder Record at end of booklet). You probably will have a physical examination and urine tests. You may have other tests, as well. These tests will help find the exact cause of your incontinence and the best treatment for you. The table at the end of this booklet (Common Tests Used to Diagnose Urinary Incontinence) lists some of the tests you may be asked to take.

Treating Urinary Incontinence
Once the type and cause of your urinary incontinence are known, treatment can begin. Urinary incontinence is treated in one or more of three ways: behavioral techniques, medication, and surgery.

Behavioral techniques:
Behavioral techniques teach you ways to control your own bladder and sphincter muscles (see drawing at beginning of booklet). They are very simple and work well for certain types of urinary incontinence. Two types of behavioral techniques are commonly used -- bladder training and pelvic muscle exercises. You may also be asked to change the amount of liquid that you drink. You may be asked to drink more or less water depending on your bladder problem.

Bladder training is used for urge incontinence, and may also be used for stress incontinence. Both men and women can benefit from bladder training. People learn different ways to control the urge to urinate. Distraction (thinking about other things) is just one example. A technique called prompted voiding -- urinating on a schedule -- is also used. This technique has been quite successful in controlling incontinence in nursing home patients.

Pelvic muscle exercises called Kegel exercises are used for stress incontinence. The Kegel exercises help to strengthen weak muscles around the bladder.

Some people need to take medicine to treat conditions that cause urinary incontinence. The most common types of medicine treat infection, replace hormones, stop abnormal bladder muscle contractions, or tighten sphincter muscles. Your health care provider may recommend medication for your condition. You will be taught how and when to take it.

Surgery is sometimes needed to help treat the cause of incontinence. Surgery can be used to:
  • Return the bladder neck to its proper position in women with stress incontinence
  • Remove tissue that is causing a blockage
  • Correct severely weakened pelvic muscles
  • Enlarge a small bladder to hold more urine

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