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What is Incontinence and How to Manage It

by Kimberly Johnson

MEDFIT23005What is Incontinence?
Incontinence is the loss of bladder or bowel control. Although it is a common and embarrassing problem, it is not a normal part of aging. Incontinence symptoms can be mild; such as an occasional slight loss of urine. Or symptoms can be very severe with a complete loss of control of both bladder and bowel. Most people’s symptoms fall somewhere in between.
Types of Incontinence
Stress incontinence happens when pressure or stress is placed on the bladder from sneezing, laughing, coughing or heavy lifting. A small amount of urine leaks out during these activities.
Urge incontinence causes such a strong urge to urinate that the person cannot hold it long enough to get to the toilet. People with urge incontinence have to urinate frequently and often wake up during the night with the urge to urinate.
Mixed incontinence is a combination of stress and urge incontinence. Many older people, especially women, have this type of incontinence.
Functional incontinence is when individuals can hold their urge to urinate but cannot get to the toilet by themselves.
Overflow incontinence is a constant leakage of a small amount of urine because the bladder never empties completely.
Transient incontinence is a temporary form of incontinence that goes away once the cause is treated. Illness is a common cause of transient incontinence.
Fecal incontinence is the loss of control of bowel movements. It can range from an occasional leakage of a small amount of stool to complete loss of bowel control. Constipation and diarrhea can cause fecal incontinence.
IMPORTANT: Be sure to discuss an individualized continence care plan with your physician or other healthcare providers.
What Causes Incontinence?
There are many causes of incontinence. Some of them include:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Inflammation or anatomical abnormality in the urinary system
  • Prostate infection of inflammation
  • Stool impaction
  • Side effects of medication
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight gain
  • Short term bed rest
  • Mental confusion
  • Certain medical conditions:
    • Alzheimer’s Disease
    • Bladder cancer
    • Cerebral Palsy
    • Down Syndrome
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Muscular Dystrophy
    • Spina bifida
    • Stroke
    • Traumatic brain and spinal injuries

Common Misconceptions about Incontinence Products
Thicker is NOT always better. Some people believe that thicker products offer better protection against leakage. That’s not always true. New technology has super absorbent polymers (SAP). Each SAP is as tiny as a salt crystal. They expand and turn into a gel when fluid strikes them. This lets us make products thinner and more discreet. Old products were all pulp with no SAPs so they were extra bulky and extra thick.
Bladder pads are NOT the same as feminine hygiene pads. Bladder control pads have unique SAPs that allow them to absorb urine quickly.
Bladder pads are NOT for women only. Some men have light urinary incontinence. They can benefit from products that are thin, discreet and absorbent. Today’s bladder control pads are gender neutral, have an anatomically comfortable fit for both men and women, and the adhesive strip can be placed anywhere in the user’s underwear. Medline’s bladder control pads are even packaged to appeal to both men and women.
Incontinence MYTHS
All of these statements are FALSE:

  • Incontinence is a normal part of aging
  • Nothing can be done for incontinence
  • The only continence management system is a brief – a LARGE one.

Strategies for Managing Incontinence
Schedule voiding is a strategy used to help people who cannot get to the toilet on their own. An individualized schedule is developed for someone to take the person to the toilet at a specific time, usually every two to three hours. This strategy can help decrease the number of incontinent episodes.
Bladder retraining can be used with individuals who are aware of the urge to go to the bathroom and have the ability and desire to control the urge. A schedule is developed for someone to take the person to the toilet at specific times. In between the scheduled toileting, the individual works on controlling the urge to void.
Prompted voiding can successfully help people with incontinence have fewer episodes and increase their awareness of a full bladder. Again, an individualized schedule is developed, and the individual is prompted to go to the bathroom at specific times.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises, known as Kegels, can strengthen muscles to prevent urine from leaking out of the bladder. These exercises are very effective with stress and urge incontinence. Individuals who can understand and follow directions
Avoiding bladder irritants, such as caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages may decrease the number of incontinent episodes.
Some medication can also affect bladder function. Speak with your physician about how your medication might affect incontinence.

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