Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of urine caused by a sudden, strong urge to urinate, often associated with conditions such as bladder infections, neurological disorders, or bladder irritants.

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Your Guide to Understanding Urge Incontinence

Urge Incontinence

What is Urge Incontinence?

Urge incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence characterized by the sudden and uncontrollable urge to urinate, often resulting in leakage of urine. It occurs when the bladder muscles contract involuntarily, causing an urgent need to use the restroom. This condition can be disruptive and embarrassing, impacting a person's daily activities and quality of life.

The underlying cause of urge incontinence can vary. It is commonly associated with conditions that affect bladder function, such as bladder infections, bladder irritants (such as caffeine or alcohol), and neurological disorders (like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease). Additionally, certain medications, like diuretics, can contribute to the development of urge incontinence.

During normal bladder function, the muscles in the bladder wall remain relaxed as the bladder gradually fills with urine. When it is time to empty the bladder, the brain sends signals to the bladder muscles, instructing them to contract while simultaneously relaxing the muscles of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). This coordinated action allows for controlled urination.In the case of urge incontinence, this coordination is disrupted. The bladder muscles contract abnormally, causing a strong and urgent need to urinate even when the bladder is not full. This sudden contraction can overwhelm the weakened or dysfunctional muscles of the urethra, resulting in involuntary urine leakage.

Managing urge incontinence often involves a combination of behavioral techniques, lifestyle modifications, and medical interventions. Behavioral techniques may include bladder training exercises, where individuals gradually increase the time between bathroom visits to improve bladder control. Lifestyle modifications may involve limiting the intake of bladder irritants, such as caffeine or acidic foods, which can exacerbate symptoms.In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help relax the bladder muscles and reduce the urgency to urinate. In more severe cases or when other treatments have proven ineffective, more advanced interventions, such as nerve stimulation or surgery, may be considered.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Urge Incontinence?

Physiotherapy services offer valuable assistance in alleviating urge incontinence, a condition characterized by a sudden and intense need to urinate followed by involuntary leakage. Through pelvic floor muscle training, physiotherapists help individuals regain control over their bladder. This may involve specific exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, such as Kegels, as well as techniques to improve bladder control, such as bladder retraining and urge suppression strategies.

Furthermore, physiotherapists may provide education on fluid management, lifestyle modifications, and behavioral techniques to manage urge incontinence effectively. By addressing the root causes and providing targeted interventions, physiotherapy plays a significant role in reducing episodes of urge incontinence and improving urinary continence.

What causes Urge Incontinence?

Urge incontinence is typically caused by a disruption in the normal bladder function. The exact cause can vary from person to person, but there are several common factors that contribute to this condition.

One primary cause is an overactive bladder muscle. The bladder muscle contracts too frequently and forcefully, resulting in sudden urges to urinate. This overactivity can be triggered by various factors, such as bladder infections, bladder irritants (like caffeine or alcohol), or neurological conditions that affect bladder control.

Another common cause is damage or weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the bladder and help control urinary flow. When the pelvic floor muscles become weakened or damaged, they may not be able to effectively hold urine, leading to leakage during episodes of urge incontinence.

Certain medications, like diuretics (which increase urine production) or medications that affect nerve signals to the bladder, can also contribute to urge incontinence. Additionally, conditions that impact the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, can disrupt the signals between the brain and bladder, causing sudden urges to urinate.

What treatments might help Urge Incontinence?

The treatment options for urge incontinence can help improve the symptoms and overall quality of life for individuals affected by this condition. Here are some common approaches:

  • Behavioral Techniques: Certain behavioral techniques can be effective in managing urge incontinence. These may include bladder training, where you gradually increase the time between bathroom visits to train your bladder to hold more urine. Additionally, practicing scheduled voiding can help establish a regular bathroom routine, reducing the frequency of urgent urges.
  • Pelvic Floor Exercises: Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through exercises known as Kegels can be beneficial for managing urge incontinence. These exercises involve contracting and relaxing the muscles that control urination. Strengthening these muscles can improve bladder control and reduce leakage.
  • Medications: There are specific medications available that can help manage urge incontinence. These medications work by relaxing the bladder muscles or reducing the signals that trigger frequent urination. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate medication and dosage for your specific situation.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Making certain lifestyle changes can also contribute to improving urge incontinence symptoms. Avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods that can irritate the bladder may help reduce urgency. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying hydrated, and adopting good bathroom habits, like fully emptying the bladder, can also be beneficial.
  • Medical Procedures: In some cases, medical procedures may be recommended for more severe cases of urge incontinence that do not respond to other treatments. These procedures can include nerve stimulation techniques, botulinum toxin injections into the bladder, or surgical interventions to correct underlying issues.

Signs of Urge Incontinence:

Urge incontinence is characterized by a few distinct signs that can indicate its presence. These signs include:

  • Sudden Urge to Urinate: One of the primary signs of urge incontinence is experiencing a sudden and intense urge to urinate, often referred to as "urgency." This urge may come on suddenly and be difficult to control.
  • Frequent Urination: People with urge incontinence may find themselves needing to urinate more frequently than usual. This can disrupt daily activities and lead to frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Leakage of Urine: Another sign is the involuntary leakage of urine during moments of increased urgency. This leakage can range from a few drops to larger amounts, depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Waking Up at Night to Urinate: In some cases, urge incontinence can cause individuals to wake up multiple times during the night to go to the bathroom, disrupting sleep patterns.

Symptoms of Urge Incontinence:

The symptoms of urge incontinence can vary from person to person, but there are several common signs to look out for. These symptoms can include:

  • Sudden and Strong Urge to Urinate: People with urge incontinence often experience a sudden and intense need to urinate that can be difficult to control. This feeling may come on quickly and may be accompanied by discomfort or pressure in the bladder.
  • Frequent Urination: Individuals with urge incontinence may find themselves needing to urinate more frequently than usual. This can mean going to the bathroom multiple times throughout the day and night.
  • Urinary Leakage: One of the main symptoms of urge incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. This can happen when the urge to urinate is so strong that it overrides the ability to reach the bathroom in time, resulting in small or larger amounts of urine leakage.
  • Nocturia: Nocturia refers to the need to wake up during the night to urinate. People with urge incontinence may find themselves waking up multiple times throughout the night to go to the bathroom.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Urge Incontinence?

The right time to see a physiotherapist for urge incontinence is when you are experiencing symptoms that are affecting your daily life and quality of life. If you are consistently experiencing sudden urges to urinate, leakage, or difficulty controlling your bladder, it may be beneficial to seek the expertise of these healthcare professionals.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
Interior Lobby at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic in Mississauga