- What is incontinence?
- Common causes
- The male prostate and incontinence
- Different types of incontinence
- How to manage incontinence – tips and advice
Men of all ages experience urinary incontinence – and it is more common than you think.
What is incontinence?
The NHS defines urinary incontinence as “the unintentional passing of urine.” It has a variety of different symptoms and causes.
Incontinence is more common in men than you might think, and increases steadily with age, more so than it does for women. Scientific studies have shown that 3% to 11% of the male population suffers from some form of incontinence, with urge incontinence as the most common symptom reported, affecting 40% to 80% of sufferers.
Mixed incontinence (a mix of stress and urge incontinence) affects 10% to 30% of sufferers. Isolated stress incontinence, in which urine leaks out when there is stress on the bladder, affects less than 10% of male patients. Combined urinary and faecal incontinence affects between 5 and 6% of men in UK.
Common causes of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence has a number of different causes, and can present differently in different individual. The condition is usually caused by muscle and nerve issues that prevent the bladder from functioning normally, causing sufferers to lose the ability to hold urine.
Other medical causes of incontinence include:
- Being overweight – Carrying too much weight can put pressure on the organs, including the bladder. This weakens the muscles over time, and the weakened bladder cannot hold a large volume of urine. A weak bladder cannot hold as much urine.
- Constipation – Chronic constipation can cause serious problems. Straining to have a bowel movement can put stress on the bladder, weakening the bladder and pelvic floor muscles, causing leakage.
- Nerve damage – A number of health issues can cause nerve damage, including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Damaged nerves may not send the appropriate signals of urgency to the brain, causing leakage or voiding.
- Surgery – Surgery on the bladder, testes, or abdomen can weaken or damage supporting pelvic floor muscles, causing urinary incontinence.
Temporary causes of incontinence:
- Certain medicines, such as diuretics – Diuretics (also known as water pills) are used to treat hypertension, kidney diseases, heart failure, and liver cirrhosis. Urinary incontinence is a common side effect of diuretics, but the symptoms usually go away when a person ceases taking the medicine.
- Caffeine drinks – Caffeinated drinks fill the bladder more quickly than other drinks, and can lead to urine leakage. Limiting caffeine can help with this problem, causing less strain on the bladder.
- Infection – Bladder infections, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections can cause temporary incontinence for the duration of the illness.
The male prostate and incontinence
Here are the facts you need to know about the male prostate and incontinence.
- What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized organ located below the bladder. It produces the seminal fluid, and can enlarge as you age. Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in older men.
- How can the prostate increase the likelihood of incontinence?
An enlargement of the prostate is called BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia) or Benign Prostate Enlargement (BPE). It causes frequent urination, a weak stream of urine, trouble starting to urinate, a complete inability to urinate, or a partial or full loss of bladder control.
- What is a radical prostatectomy?
For some men diagnosed with prostate cancer, a radical prostatectomy is the best course of treatment. It is an operation that removes the prostate gland and surrounding tissues, including seminal vesicles and nearby lymph nodes.
- What is external beam radiation?
In some cases of prostate cancer, doctors will suggest external beam radiation rather than a prostatectomy. Radiotherapy treats the prostate, and aims to kill all of the cancer cells. It may not be an appropriate measure for those whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate.
- What is a prostate symptom score?
The IPSS (International Prostate Symptom Score) questionnaire helps your GP understand the severity of your prostate symptoms. You can download a version of the questionnaire (PDF, 180kb) from the Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust here.
Different types of incontinence
These are the main types of incontinence:
- Stress incontinence – Stress incontinence is caused by pressure on your bladder. For instance, this can happen when you laugh, sneeze, cough, lift something heavy, jump, or run. When these things happen, urine can leak from the urethra. It has nothing to do with ‘being stressed out,’ but instead refers to the stress on the bladder.
- Functional incontinence – Functional incontinence affects those who have physical and/or mental disabilities. While they might be aware of the need to void, they might not be able to make it to the toilet in time.
- Overflow incontinence – Overflow incontinence is a common form of incontinence, something that is defined as the inability to control the bladder and urination in general. While incontinence can have many causes and come in many forms, overflow incontinence is the result of being unable to empty your bladder fully. As a result, the overflow that is left over can at times come leaking out without your knowledge or control. You may not even know that your bladder is full or that you urgently need the toilet.
- Urge incontinence – Urge incontinence prevents sufferers from controlling their urge to urinate or defecate, causing people to rush to get to the toilet in time. While the causes of urge incontinence are not always clear, there are treatments and management plans to help sufferers.
- Bowel incontinence – Bowel incontinence causes a loss of normal bowel function, meaning that you pass gas, liquid, or faeces involuntarily. It can have many of the same causes of urinary incontinence listed here.
- Double Incontinence – The term ‘double incontinence’ refers to faecal and urinary incontinence occurring together. However, most people do not realise that there are multiple types of incontinence, each with different symptoms and causes. Understanding the kind of incontinence someone is suffering from is the first step in helping address the problem.
How to manage incontinence – tips and advice
If you are experiencing urinary incontinence, there are solutions and tips that you can apply to manage your symptoms.
- Incontinence Products
There are plenty of incontinence products on the market that are discreet and effective.
- Do daily pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises, such as pelvic floor exercises, or an exercise regime under the guidance of a Specialist Continence Nurse can help strengthen the pelvic floor. Learn how to do pelvic floor exercises here.
- Quit smoking
A ‘smoker’s cough’ can strain your pelvic floor muscles and cause incontinence. Seek resources for quitting smoking to reduce your risk of male incontinence, as well as many other health problems.
- Exercise in the right way
Certain exercises, such as sit-ups and high impact sports (like jogging and aerobics), put pressure on your pelvic floor, causing leaks. Instead of high impact exercises, try Pilates, yoga, or strength training that uses your own body weight for resistance.
- Stop lifting
Lifting heavy objects, such as weights, groceries, and even children, can strain your pelvic floor muscles. When you do need to lift something, tighten up your pelvic floor muscles beforehand.
- Lose extra weight
If you are carrying extra weight, your bladder is under pressure from excess fatty tissue. If you lose some weight, your incontinence symptoms might disappear completely.
- Treat constipation as soon as possible
Straining to defecate can weaken your pelvic floor muscles. If you find yourself constipated, consider lifestyle and diet changes, including eating more fibre, fruits, and vegetables. If you are constipated regularly, speak with your GP a Specialist Continence Nurse
- Lower your caffeine intake
Caffeine irritates your bladder, which can make incontinence worse. Coffee and tea are packed with caffeine, so consider making the switch to herbal teas, or make the switch to decaffeinated tea or coffee. Limit your consumption of fizzy drinks, hot chocolate, and green tea.
- Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol is a diuretic, and causes you to produce more urine and need to urinate frequently. Cutting down on alcoholic drinks can help reduce your bladder to be irritable and ease your incontinence symptoms.
- Increase your water intake
Men suffering from urinary incontinence are often tempted to avoid drinking a lot of water or fluids in general, as they worry that it will cause them to have more problems. However, if you limit your fluid intake, it can often reduce your bladder capacity, making constipation worse. A reduction in fluid intake can also make your urine more concentrated which can also cause bladder irritation. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day (not more), and consult with your GP.
- Avoid certain foods
Spicy and acidic foods can irritate the bladder, increasing the symptoms of incontinence.
Male incontinence is more common than you might think, and has a variety of causes. Thankfully, learning how to treat or manage your urinary incontinence symptoms will improve your overall quality of life and help you feel more confident.
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