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Urinary incontinence: the facts about bladder weakness

Male urinary incontinence can feel like a taboo subject. We tend to think that it’s a sign of getting old and that it makes us look weak. But there are many reasons for loss of bladder control. A visit to your doctor will pave the way to proper treatment and improving your quality of life – this includes finding the right incontinence products to fit your needs.

What is incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is a common problem where you can’t control when you pass urine. A leak could vary from a drop or two to your full bladder contents.

There are many potential causes, and they vary hugely. The most common cause of male incontinence is an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Prostate surgery due to prostate cancer could also lead to loss of bladder control.

But stress incontinence could be caused by heavy physical labor, like lifting large weights, which could damage the pelvic floor. It’s even possible to cause bladder weakness by holding it in too long, pressing too hard during urination, or simply going too often, damaging your bladder nerves and muscles. Just picking up shopping or lifting your child into a baby seat could be enough for you to feel a leak.

Diabetes can damage the nerves that control bladder function, leading to an uncontrollable bladder. This means your bladder might overflow without notice, or you get such a strong, sudden urge to urinate that you don’t have much time to make it to the restroom.

Urinary tract infections or bladder infections can cause narrowing of the urinary tract (urethra) or the bladder neck, as cab urinary stones (kidney stones) or damage from a catheter.


Across all age groups people also men suffer from incontinence, meaning that over 30 million people could be affected. Out of those people, around 8 million sufferers would be male.

Urinary incontinence grows more common with age and 71% of people suffering from incontinence being over the age of 40.

Many people with bladder weakness and loss of bladder control don’t like to talk openly about it. This makes it hard to say how many people are really affected by urinary incontinence and how many develop the condition each year. Some experts believe that many cases go unreported and untreated.

Urinary incontinence is a problem that occurs across all cultures, all over the world. It’s estimated that one in three people may develop this condition at some point in their lives. In addition, at least one in six will end up developing an overactive bladder, loss of bladder control and a related skin irritation or depression, any of which could interfere with living a normal, active life.

Different types of urinary incontinence

The most common types of urinary incontinence are urge incontinence and stress incontinence; it’s also possible for these types to be mixed, although this is rare for men.

Urge incontinence is when you feel an intense urge to pass urine without warning; you may find that urine leaks as you feel this sensation, or soon afterwards. Stress incontinence refers to your bladder being under physical pressure; for example when you cough or laugh, you may find that urine leaks out.

Less common problems are overflow incontinence, nerve system problems or incontinence due to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s.

The first step towards proper treatment for urinary incontinence is to visit your doctor and get a medical diagnosis based on your specific symptoms. Once this is done, it’s possible to make lifestyle changes and get incontinence products that will increase your comfort and peace of mind whenever you’re out and about.

Urge incontinence

This type of incontinence involves sudden strong urges to urinate. These are sometimes so unexpected that there isn’t time to make it to the restroom. This type of incontinence is the most common for men of all ages and is frequently related to an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Other causes could be subconscious tightening of the bladder muscle, a bladder infection, a tumour or an oversensitive bladder. Urge incontinence can be found in combination with an overactive bladder.

Once any neurological cause is ruled out, urge incontinence can often be treated with specific medications, or in rare cases, with an operation.

Typical symptoms include finding it hard to urinate on demand, and that fully emptying your bladder can take longer than usual. You might also feel that you never completely empty your bladder; and many men also experience dripping after urinating. These symptoms can be frustrating, especially when you urgently need to go very often – not only during the day but also at night.

It can disrupt daily life a great deal if you’re anxious about staying near to a toilet. Trips with the family, a round of golf, or just a walk in the park can become a source of great stress. Even a ride in the car or restaurant visit can be challenging if you’re worried about finding a bathroom, and what might happen if it’s occupied when you need it.

It can also make work much more stressful; a long meeting or prolonged customer conversation can become very tense. And giving presentations can be filled with fear and uncertainty if you’re worried that you might have a visible leak.

Active men in the prime of life can often find these limitations very disturbing, causing anxiety, stress and even depression. Those who feel this way can begin to isolate themselves from their work, avoiding leisure activities and even time with their families.

Stress incontinence

The “stress” that causes this type of bladder weakness refers to physical pressure in the abdominal area. This could occur when you’re carrying or picking up heavy things, but it’s also common when coughing, sneezing or even laughing.

With stress incontinence you will normally find that you pass small drips of urine rather than emptying your bladder.

The most common cause of male stress incontinence is prostate surgery, which can affect sphincter function and create a change in the normal pressure on your abdominal area.

Stress incontinence can have far-reaching effects on daily life: anything that involves carrying or lifting heavy loads can be a problem, and some hobbies or sports may become very difficult. If you’re affected you might fear going to the movies, having a laugh or a joke with friends, or playing with the kids or grandkids.

There are many different treatments for stress incontinence, ranging from pelvic floor exercises, to medication, and, in rare cases, surgery. But to get the right treatment, you need a diagnosis from your doctor. If you think you have stress incontinence you should visit your doctor to get advice and help.

Overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence is also called unconscious incontinence; it involves a constant dribble or a total loss of urine without awareness, when the bladder is (over)full.

Again, the most common cause of this type of male urinary incontinence is an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). It can also involve problems during urination where you can’t empty your bladder completely. The bladder fills more and more and urine rises into the ureters (which carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), resulting in dripping or overflowing. This type of chronic urinary retention makes urinating on demand difficult or impossible.

Overflow incontinence can also be caused by urine stones (kidney stones), tumours, a blocked urethra (urinary tract) or a muscular dysfunction, due to nerve damage from diseases like diabetes.

To treat any of these problems, your doctor must refer you to a urologist. If you have any reason to think you have one of these conditions, you should see your doctor as soon as you can.

Neurogenic detrusor overactivity

This condition can be divided into two types: spiral neurogenic detrusor overactivity and supra spiral neurogenic detrusor overactivity.

In supra spiral neurogenic detrusor overactivity, you can no longer tell when your bladder is full. Those affected can’t control urination and so empty their bladder suddenly without warning. The cause is actually a defect in the brain function that controls urination. Toilet training and medication can help with this problem if it’s diagnosed.

Spiral neurogenic detrusor overactivity is an impairment of the spiral cord, normally resulting from an accident or illness. However, the symptoms are exactly the same.

Secondary urinary incontinence

Secondary incontinence is the result of a chronic illness or a traffic accident.

Temporary urinary incontinence

Temporary incontinence can be caused by insufficient movement, constipation, intestine inflammation, urinary tract infection, disruption of the water cycle, psychological illness, or even from the side effects of medication.

The first step towards treatment is to have the underlying cause diagnosed by a doctor; treatment of this problem will likely solve or lessen the incontinence. You can also use incontinence products to give you peace of mind while symptoms continue.

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