Bladder Incontinence

Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004

Bladder incontinence is the unintentional loss of urine. It is also called urinary incontinence. Here are some important facts:

  • 17 million Americans are incontinent.
  • The majority of Americans with incontinence are women.
  • Bladder problems are not a natural consequence of aging.
  • Bladder problems are not exclusively a problem of the elderly.
  • 1 in 4 women age 30-59 has experienced an episode of incontinence.
  • $16.4 billion is spent every year on incontinence-related care: $11.2 billion for community-based programs and at home, and $5.2 billion in long-term care facilities.
  • $1.1 billion is spent every year on disposable products for adults.
  • 50% or more of elderly persons living at home or in long-term care facilities are incontinent.
  • Less than 50% of those who have bladder problems ever discuss the condition with their health care professional. The disorder, therefore, often goes untreated.

Bladder incontinence has a number of causes. Women are most likely to develop incontinence during pregnancy and childbirth or after the hormonal changes of menopause because of weakened pelvic muscles.

Older men can become incontinent as the result of prostate surgery. Pelvic trauma, spinal cord damage, caffeine, or medications including cold preparations and diet drugs that are available over-the-counter (without a prescription) also can cause episodes of bladder incontinence. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, which affect the nerves that control the bladder, can be associated with bladder incontinence. Other factors that contribute to bladder incontinence include mobility problems (people who can't get around normally) and problems thinking (such as forgetfulness, confusion, or senility), particularly in combination with drugs such as sedatives, sleeping pills, and alcohol.

There is treatment available for urinary incontinence. Bladder incontinence can be improved in 8 out of 10 cases. Talk to your health professional about it!

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