Do you have trouble controlling when you urinate? Do you leak urine when you cough or sneeze? Do you suddenly need to go to the toilet so badly that you're not sure you're going to make it in time — and sometimes you don't? Does a fear of wetting yourself and smelling of urine keep you from activities?

What is it?

The loss of bladder control — known as urinary incontinence — is an all too common, often embarrassing and frustrating problem for millions of people. If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may count yourself among them.

Although common, urinary incontinence isn't necessarily a normal part of aging or, in women, an inevitable consequence of childbirth or changes after menopause. It's a medical condition that can have many different causes, some relatively simple and temporary and others more involved and long term.

If you're having trouble with incontinence, don't hesitate to see your doctor. In many situations, incontinence can be eliminated. Even if the condition can't be completely eliminated, modern products and ways of managing urinary incontinence can ease your discomfort and inconvenience.

What causes it?

Urinary incontinence isn't a disease itself. It indicates some underlying problem or condition that likely can and should be treated. A thorough evaluation by your doctor can help determine what's behind your incontinence.

The bottom line is that good bladder control isn't simple. As a child, you learn how to hold on until you get to the bathroom. But urination is a complex process that involves relaxing part of the pelvis while contracting another part. The many organs, tubes, muscles and nerves in your urinary system must work together. If any part malfunctions, incontinence can result.

Urinary incontinence has many possible causes. Some causes are temporary and can be managed with simple treatment. Examples include:

  • Consuming alcohol to excess. Alcohol is a diuretic. It causes your bladder to fill quickly, triggering an urgent and sometimes uncontrollable need to urinate. In addition, alcohol can temporarily impair your ability to recognize the need to urinate and act on that need in a timely manner.
  • Drinking a lot of fluid. Drinking a lot of water or other beverages, particularly in a short period of time, increases the amount of urine your bladder has to deal with and may result in an occasional accident.
  • Not drinking enough fluid. If you have urge incontinence, you may try to limit your fluids to reduce the number of trips to the toilet. However, if you don't consume enough liquid to stay hydrated, your urine can occasionally become very concentrated. This collection of concentrated salts can irritate your bladder and worsen your urge incontinence.
  • Overdoing the caffeine. Caffeine also is a diuretic. It causes your bladder to fill more quickly than usual so that you suddenly and perhaps uncontrollably need to urinate.

Other contributing factor can include:

  • Consuming foods and beverages that irritate your bladder.
  • Taking certain medications.
  • Urinary tract infection.

What are the symptoms?

  • The inability to control urination.
  • It is sometimes accompanied by extreme urgency or frequency of urination, and if untreated can lead to bladder or urinary tract infections.
  • Bedwetting in children is also a form of incontinence.

Are there any natural therapies?

  • The homoeopathic mineral Calcium fluoride (Calc. Fluor. 6x) taken over an extended period may help to improve the integrity of the urinary structures
  • Where low-grade infection is causing the incontinence, try the herbs Cranberry, Uva Ursi or Buchu
  • Hypericum – this herb can be helpful if the condition is associated with depression

Behavioral techniques and lifestyle changes work well for certain types of urinary incontinence. They may be the only treatment you need. These include:

  • Bladder training.
  • Pelvic floor muscle exercises.
  • Fluid and diet management.
  • Electrical stimulation.
  • Other techniques.

What else can I do?

Incontinence may or may not be something you can prevent. Oftentimes the cause of incontinence is out of your control. However, you may be able to decrease your risk of urinary incontinence with these steps:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice Kegel exercises.
  • Avoid bladder irritants.
  • Eat more fibre.

Did you know?
With so many possible causes, it's not surprising that incontinence is common. These factors increase your risk of developing this common condition; sex, age, obesity, smoking, participating in high-impact sports or other diseases or medications.