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What is a Leaky Bladder?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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The term “leaky bladder” describes periodic episodes of incontinence, where a person notices some leakage of urine after urinating or during particular activities. This is an extremely common problem, especially among women, and there are a number of treatments available. A doctor will need to examine the patient and conduct an interview to find out more about the origins of the leaky bladder in order to provide the best possible treatments. Seeking treatment is advisable, because sometimes urinary incontinence can be a sign of a serious underlying medical problem like a tumor or nerve damage.

Some common forms of leaky bladder include stress incontinence and temporary incontinence. Stress incontinence is where people leak urine under physical stress like coughing, sneezing, or engaging in vigorous activity. Temporary incontinence is caused by issues like a urinary tract infection or pregnancy, when the fetus puts pressure on the bladder. Other causes of incontinence can include nerve damage making it difficult to control the bladder, muscle weakness, or hormone imbalances. Women most commonly notice leaky bladder during and after pregnancy and when they enter menopause.

Accidental urination with a leaky bladder can happen at any time, and sometimes patients don't feel it. They may notice wet underwear or a strong smell when they use the bathroom. Some temporary measures to address a leaky bladder can include wearing incontinence pads to absorb urine, as well as urinating on a schedule to try to keep the bladder as empty as possible.

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Medications are available to treat this condition, ranging from antibiotics to resolve an infection to drugs that limit bladder spasms. Women with weak muscles may need to wear a pessary, a device the doctor can insert into the vagina to support and take pressure off the bladder, to prevent leaks. Surgery can be another option, as can techniques like electrical nerve stimulation, where a device sends signals to misfiring nerves to control their activity.

Patients are sometimes reluctant to discuss a leaky bladder with a doctor because they feel awkward or think no treatment will be available. Many people associate urinary incontinence with natural aging and thus don't believe there is anything a doctor can do. Although common, incontinence is not natural, and a doctor can screen a patient for potential causes or refer the patient to a urologist for a more in-depth evaluation. Treating a leaky bladder can resolve a serious medical condition, in addition to helping the patient feel more comfortable and confident.

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