Ask the Doctor: Urinary Incontinence

Q: What could be causing my recent onset of urinary incontinence?

A: Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, can be caused by a short-term issue or a long-term issue. An example of a short-term issue that can cause incontinence it is a urinary tract infection (cystitis), a condition that can be treated with antibiotics. Incontinence can also be a temporary side effect of certain medications (such as diuretics). Polyps, bladder stones, and bladder cancer (a less common cause) can also cause temporary urinary incontinence; these abnormal growths can cause urge incontinence and may be associated with blood in the urine. If you see blood in your urine, alert your health care provider immediately. There are three major causes of long-term urinary incontinence: 1) pelvic support problems, 2) urinary tract abnormalities, 3) and neuromuscular problems. Pelvic organs – including the urethra, bladder, uterus, or rectum – are held in place by supportive tissues and muscles that can tear, stretch, and/or weaken with age. If this occurs, the pelvic organs may drop down, causing urine leakage and/or making it hard to pass urine. A urinary tract abnormality (fistula) is an abnormal opening from the urinary tract into another part of the body – like the vagina – through which urine can leak. Finally, neuromuscular disorders can interfere with the transmission of signals from the brain and spinal cord to the bladder and urethra. A number of steps may be needed to find the cause of urinary incontinence. In some cases, there may be multiple causes. A consultation with a doctor is necessary for addressing this issue.

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