Urinary Incontinence in Elderly Women
Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of control of the urinary bladder. Studies have shown that urinary incontinence is more prevalent in women than men. 1 out of every 3 elderly women might experience urinary incontinence. Though the risk of developing this condition increases with advancing age, it can be cured with timely and proper management techniques. Urinary incontinence can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life, leading to embarrassment, social isolation, and decreased mobility. This article will discuss urinary incontinence in older women, its causes, symptoms, and how to treat it.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence, or bladder control issue, is a condition that develops when a person fails to hold urine resulting in involuntary leaking of urine. The condition can be embarrassing and overwhelming, preventing people, especially older adults, from talking about it and seeking the needed care. The inability to control one’s bladder can lower self-esteem and disrupt normal daily activities.
Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence in Elderly Women
If you have urinary incontinence or any signs of a bladder problem, talk to your health care provider. The signs include:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Inability to hold urine
- Cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Pain while urinating
- Passing a small amount of urine intermittently
- Trouble starting urinating
- Having a weak stream while urinating
Cause of Urinary Incontinence in Elderly Women
Urinary incontinence can result because of one’s lifestyle habits, underlying health conditions, or other physical issues. Temporary causes of urinary incontinence are:
- Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Chili peppers
- Spicy, sugar-rich, and acidic foods
- Certain drugs like heart and blood pressure medications, sedatives, and muscle relaxants
- Large doses of vitamin C and citrus fruits
- Urinary tract infection
Other major causes of urinary incontinence in elderly women are listed below.
- Pregnancy and Childbirth: Bodily stresses like pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the pelvic organs, including the urinary bladder, which might cause urinary incontinence later in life.
- Changes with age: Increasing age can lower the capacity of your bladder to hold urine, leading to involuntary urine leakage.
- Menopause: A decline in hormone (estrogen) levels during menopause can deteriorate the lining of the bladder and urethra. It weakens the bladder leading to urinary incontinence.
- Obstruction: Urinary stones or tumors in the urinary tract can obstruct the urinary tract. This hampers the normal flow of urine and leads to urinary incontinence.
- Neurological disorders: Certain neurological disorders like Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, a stroke, a brain tumor, or a spinal injury are also possible causes of urinary incontinence in elderly women.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are different types of urinary incontinence:
- Stress Incontinence: This condition occurs when urine leaks as a result of pressure on the bladder while exercising, coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects, Stress incontinence may develop before or after menopause.
- Urge Incontinence: People are said to have urge incontinence if they frequently feel a sudden need to urinate and fail to hold till they get to a toilet.
- Mixed incontinence is a combination of both stress and urge incontinence.
- Overflow Incontinence: This condition happens when you have weak bladder muscles. As a result, urine does not get expelled completely from the bladder while urinating. Consequently, the bladder gets too full, and you begin to leak a small amount of urine intermittently. It is common in older adults with diabetes and spinal cord injury.
- Functional Incontinence: This condition occurs when people cannot get to a toilet though they have normal bladder function because of arthritis or their mobility disorder.
Treatment and Self-care for Urinary Incontinence
Treatment options for urinary incontinence in elderly women vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Behavioral therapies, such as bladder training and pelvic floor exercises, are often recommended as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate urinary incontinence. In more severe cases, medication or surgery may be necessary.
Some self-care for urinary incontinence can be done by altering certain lifestyle habits and behavior, such as:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Avoid bladder irritants like alcohol and caffeine
- Practice good toilet habits
- Avoid holding in urine for long periods of time
Avoiding lifting heavy objects and straining during constipation can reduce the risk of urinary incontinence. You can also use disposable absorbent briefs or underwear and furniture pads for minor leakage. Urine deodorizing pills can help with the odor.
Urine leakage due to pelvic organ prolapse can be managed by using pessaries and non-invasive devices like FemiCushion. FemiCushion is a medical device that uses a silicone cushion to support prolapsed pelvic organs. This help relives symptoms like pain and urinary incontinence.
Bladder Control Training for Urinary Incontinence
Managing urinary incontinence in elderly women can be done through bladder control training like
- Pelvic muscle exercise: Also known as Kegels. It helps strengthen the pelvic muscles that support the urinary bladder and reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.
- Urinary suppression: A self-care technique that helps control strong urges to urinate.
- Timed voiding: This technique involves voiding the urinary bladder at fixed times to help control bladder retention.
Other treatment options for urinary incontinence involve medication, vaginal estrogen creams, bulking agents, biofeedback, and electric nerve stimulation. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.
Urinary incontinence is a common problem among elderly women that can have a significant impact on quality of life. It is important for those who are experiencing urinary incontinence to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider can help to determine the underlying cause of the condition and develop a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual's needs. With proper care and management, many women are able to effectively manage their urinary incontinence and improve their quality of life. Do not be embarrassed of urinary incontinence as it is a very common problem that women and men of all ages undergo.
Supervising Doctor of This Article
Koichi Nagao, MD PhD
Professor, Department of Urology, Toho University Faculty of Medicine
Director of Urinary tract reconstruction center, Toho University Omori Medical Center
Director of Reproduction Center, Toho University Omori Medical Center
Professor Nagao specializes in plastic surgery in the field of reproductive medicine. He completed eight years of plastic surgery training at Showa University before majoring in urology at Toho University. With his meticulous surgical techniques and careful examinations that combines urology and plastic surgery, Professor Nagao became a Board Certified Specialist with multiple associations including the Japanese Urological Association, the Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Japanese Society for Sexual Medicine.