Urinary Incontinence (cont.)

How is urinary incontinence (UI) treated?

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No single treatment works for everyone. Your treatment will depend on the type and severity of your problem, your lifestyle, and your preferences, starting with the simpler treatment options. Many men regain urinary control by changing a few habits and doing exercises to strengthen the muscles that hold urine in the bladder. If these behavioral treatments do not work, you may choose to try medicines or a continence device - either an artificial sphincter or a catheter. For some men, surgery is the best choice.

Behavioral Treatments

For some men, avoiding incontinence is as simple as limiting fluids at certain times of the day or planning regular trips to the bathroom - a therapy called timed voiding or bladder training. As you gain control, you can extend the time between trips. Bladder training also includes Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles, which help hold urine in the bladder. Extensive studies have not yet conclusively shown that Kegel exercises are effective in reducing incontinence in men, but many clinicians find them to be an important element in therapy for men.

How do you do Kegel exercises?

The first step is to find the right muscles. Imagine that you are trying to stop yourself from passing gas. Squeeze the muscles you would use. If you sense a "pulling" feeling, those are the right muscles for pelvic exercises.

Do not squeeze other muscles at the same time or hold your breath. Also, be careful not to tighten your stomach, leg, or buttock muscles. Squeezing the wrong muscles can put more pressure on your bladder control muscles. Squeeze just the pelvic muscles.

Pull in the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of 3. Then relax for a count of 3. Repeat, but do not overdo it. Work up to 3 sets of 10 repeats. Start doing your pelvic muscle exercises lying down. This position is the easiest for doing Kegel exercises because the muscles then do not need to work against gravity. When your muscles get stronger, do your exercises sitting or standing. Working against gravity is like adding more weight.

Be patient. Do not give up. It takes just 5 minutes, three times a day. Your bladder control may not improve for 3 to 6 weeks, although most people notice an improvement after a few weeks.

Medicines

Medicines can affect bladder control in different ways. Some medicines help prevent incontinence by blocking abnormal nerve signals that make the bladder contract at the wrong time, while others slow the production of urine. Still others relax the bladder or shrink the prostate. Before prescribing a medicine to treat incontinence, your doctor may consider changing a prescription you already take. For example, diuretics are often prescribed to treat high blood pressure because they reduce fluid in the body by increasing urine production. Some men may find that switching from a diuretic to another kind of blood pressure medicine takes care of their incontinence.

If changing medicines is not an option, your doctor may choose from the following types of drugs for incontinence:

  • Alpha-blockers: Terazosin (Hytrin), doxazosin (Cardura), tamsulosin (Flomax), and alfzosin (Uroxatral) are used to treat problems caused by prostate enlargement and bladder outlet obstruction. They act by relaxing the smooth muscle of the prostate and bladder neck, allowing normal urine flow and preventing abnormal bladder contractions that can lead to urge incontinence.
  • 5-alpha reductase inhibitors: Finasteride (Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart) work by inhibiting the production of the male hormone DHT, which is thought to be responsible for prostate enlargement. These 5-alpha reductase inhibitors may help to relieve voiding problems by shrinking an enlarged prostate.
  • Imipramine: Marketed as Tofranil, this drug belongs to a class of drugs called tricyclic antidepressants. It relaxes muscles and blocks nerve signals that might cause bladder spasms.
  • Antispasmodics: Propantheline (Pro-Banthine), tolterodine (Detrol LA), oxybutynin (Ditropan XL), darifenacin (Enablex), trospium chloride (Sanctura), and solifenacin succinate (VESIcare) belong to a class of drugs that work by relaxing the bladder muscle and relieving spasms. Their most common side effect is dry mouth, although large doses may cause blurred vision, constipation, a fast heartbeat, headache, and flushing.
  • Botox (onabotulinumtoxin A): This is a new treatment that involves using a cystoscope to inject Botox into the bladder muscle to prevent spastic bladder contractions.
  • Neuromodulation: This is a new treatment option used for urge incontinence and overactive bladder that involves using an electrical current to alter the nerve reflex arc that regulates bladder contraction. There are two types of neuromodulation: peripheral and sacral. Peripheral neuromodulation involves weekly treatments in a phusician's office where a small needle is placed in the patient's ankle and a weak electrical signal is sent to the sacral nerves via the tibial nerve. This is called percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS). Sacral nerve stimulation (Interstim) is performed by surgically placeing a pacemaker-sized device that sends a signal directly to the sacral spine via an implanted wire.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatments can help men with incontinence that results from nerve-damaging events, such as spinal cord injury or radical prostatectomy.

  • Artificial sphincter: Some men may eliminate urine leakage with an artificial sphincter, an implanted device that keeps the urethra closed until you are ready to urinate. This device can help people who have incontinence because of weak sphincter muscles or because of nerve damage that interferes with sphincter muscle function. It does not solve incontinence caused by uncontrolled bladder contractions.

    Surgery to place the artificial sphincter requires general or spinal anesthesia. The device has three parts: a cuff that fits around the urethra, a small balloon reservoir placed in the abdomen, and a pump placed in the scrotum. The cuff is filled with liquid that makes it fit tightly around the urethra to prevent urine from leaking. When it is time to urinate, you squeeze the pump with your fingers to deflate the cuff so that the liquid moves to the balloon reservoir and urine can flow through the urethra. When your bladder is empty, the cuff automatically refills in the next 2 to 5 minutes to keep the urethra tightly closed.

Picture of an artificial sphincter
Artificial sphincter
  • Male sling: Surgery can improve some types of urinary incontinence in men. In a sling procedure, the surgeon creates a support for the urethra by wrapping a strip of material around the urethra and attaching the ends of the strip to the pelvic bone. The sling keeps constant pressure on the urethra so that it does not open until the patient consciously releases the urine.
  • Urinary diversion: If the bladder must be removed or all bladder function is lost because of nerve damage, you may consider surgery to create a urinary diversion. In this procedure, the surgeon creates a reservoir by removing a piece of the small intestine and directing the ureters to the reservoir. The surgeon also creates a stoma, an opening on the lower abdomen where the urine can be drained through a catheter or into a bag.
Picture of urinary diversion
Urinary diversion

Social Support

UI should not cause embarrassment. It is a medical problem, like arthritis and diabetes. Your health care provider can help you find a solution. You may also find it helpful to join a support group. In many areas, men dealing with the aftereffects of prostate cancer treatment have organized support groups. Other organizations to help people with incontinence exist as well. See the For More Information section.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/19/2014

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Urinary Incontinence - Causes in Men Question: What was the cause of urinary incontinence in you or a male friend or relative?
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