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urge incontinence

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Urge incontinence is an urgent desire to urinate followed by uncontrolled loss of urine.

What is going on in the body? 
Normally, people can hold urine for some time after feeling that the bladder is full. People with urge incontinence cannot hold it and need to find a bathroom quickly.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
The symptoms of the disease are:
  • urgent need to urinate
  • loss of control of urine
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
The most common sudden cause is a urinary tract infection. Urge incontinence without infection is common in older people and often has no clear cause. Other causes of urge incontinence are:
  • overactive bladder muscles
  • obstruction of urine flow
  • medication side effects
  • weakened bladder muscles
  • bladder stones and tumours
  • stroke
What can be done to prevent the condition? 
There are ways to prevent urinary incontinence:
  • Urinating at regular intervals before the urge occurs can help.
  • Exercising the muscles of the pelvic floor can help. Your doctor or physiotherapist can teach you which muscles to exercise. This exercise should be practiced several times a day to strengthen the muscles.
  • Drinking 1 or 2 glasses of cranberry juice each day may help prevent infection.
  • Drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day will keep the urine dilute.
How is the condition diagnosed? 
People often live with incontinence without seeking help because they are too embarrassed to discuss it. The condition is diagnosed mainly on the pattern of symptoms. If it starts suddenly, it is most likely a bladder problem. Usually the cause can be discovered after the doctor asks about the history of the problem and performs a physical examination. A test of the urine must be done to check for infection.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Depression is a common long-term effect for people with incontinence. The condition interferes with normal activities of daily living. Without correct diagnosis and treatment the problem will get worse and will be even more difficult to treat.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Prevention is the best treatment. There are drugs to relax the bladder. Drug treatment should be monitored carefully and adjusted to each person's needs. Drugs used include oxybutynin and bethanecol.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
All medications have potential side effects. The specific side effects depend on the medication that is prescribed. For example, a drug that relaxes the bladder may cause dryness of the mouth, constipation and palpitations.

How is the condition monitored? 
Follow up and ongoing monitoring is important in any treatment to make sure progress is being made.

Author: Stuart Wolf, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 7/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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