What is ‘urge’ incontinence?
Urge incontinence refers to the sudden and overwhelming need to urinate, with the consequence of experiencing an involuntary loss of urine; often on the way to the toilet. The loss can vary from a few drops through to being unable to stop the flow once it’s started and losing the entire bladder content.
The urge occurs when the bladder muscles suddenly contract or spasms and not always when the bladder is full. This spasming can have the consequence of needing to urinate frequently, including during the night – often passing only small volumes of urine.
The uncontrollable contracting is known as an Over Active Bladder or OAB. Not all men with OAB experience incontinence. Regardless, frequent urination can be disruptive to everyday life. So even if you’re not leaking, it’s best to make an appointment to see your doctor and find out what’s causing it.
Incontinence itself isn’t a stand-alone condition, regardless of the type, but a symptom of an underlying issue. Treatment will depend on the cause, which needs to be investigated and identified.
How does Male Urge Incontinence affect men?
A normal, healthy bladder will start sending messages to the brain when it’s about half full. The urge isn’t strong, and most people can comfortably ignore the message until it’s convenient to go to the toilet.
With male urge incontinence, that message is sudden, strong and urgent and needs to be acted upon immediately. Some men can get to the toilet on time, but others will experience urine leakage. This can be embarrassing and have all sorts of adverse effects on the quality of life, including:
- Avoiding social situations
- The ability to stay in paid work
- No longer participating in sport and exercise
- Withdrawal from physical intimacy with a partner
- Disturbed sleep
- Anxiety and depression
- Among the elderly, increased risk of injury from a fall when hurrying to the toilet
You can read more about these impacts in this article; Incontinence Can Take a Psychological Toll on Men
The effect on wellbeing and mental health can’t be underestimated, so don’t ignore it, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Symptoms as causes male urge incontinence
As described, the primary symptom of male urge incontinence is a sudden, overwhelming and urgent need to urinate. It is often accompanied by nocturia or frequent night-time urination. You can read more about that in this article
The causes of male urge incontinence (or an overactive bladder) can vary from the benign to the serious, so it’s essential to have it investigated. Causes can include:
- Poor bladder habits. If you don’t drink enough water, urine becomes concentrated, which can aggravate the bladder lining, causing it to become overactive. Similarly, rushing in the toilet and not taking the time to empty your bladder entirely, leaves residual urine behind which will cause irritation.
- Certain food and drinks. Caffeine (in tea, coffee and all chocolate-based products), carbonated drinks, alcohol, spicy foods, citrus and tomatoes, including pasta and pizza sauces, are all known to irritate the bladder and trigger male urge incontinence.
- Stress. There seems to be a strong correlation between stress and urge incontinence. The cause/effect relationship can become cyclical as men become increasingly anxious about leaking, which can trigger more incidence.
- Infection. Although Urinary Tract Infections, or UTIs, are typically associated with women, men can also develop them. A UTI is an infection of one or more parts of the urinary tract. This includes the urethra (the tube that transports urine from the bladder to exit the body), bladder and kidneys. Bacteria are present in the urethra in small numbers but are flushed out when passing urine. However, if they do take hold, they cause an infection. If symptoms aren’t present or are mild, you may not be aware and seek treatment. In that case, the infection can continue into the bladder (also called cystitis and from there, to the kidneys (medically known as pyelonephritis). The infection can irritate the bladder lining, causing it to spasm or unexpectedly contract, leading to urge incontinence.
- Constipation or an enlarged prostate gland. Both of these conditions can inhibit the flow of urine from the bladder, causing urine retention that irritates the bladder.
- Bladder stones. Bladder stones are crystallised minerals that develop from concentrated urine. In men, this can occur when the bladder isn’t completely emptied routinely for the reasons described above. Some men experience symptoms similar to a UTI – a burning sensation when passing urine, abdominal pain, etc. – but for others, the only sign is urge incontinence.
- Neurological conditions. Diseases or injuries that interfere with the messages between the bladder and brain can lead to the bladder becoming overactive. These include Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, spinal injury and multiple sclerosis.
- Bladder cancer. While relatively uncommon, bladder cancer can be behind male urge incontinence. In such cases, it’s typically a tumour that’s causing the bladder to spasm.
In some cases of male urge incontinence, after the above have all been ruled out, the conclusion is that a cause cannot be identified.
Treatments for male urge incontinence
Treatment will, of course, depend on the cause and range from the conservative to the more intrusive.
- Lifestyle changes. These habits can be adopted to improve, and in some cases, cure male urge incontinence.
- Maintain your weight in the healthy range. Use this Heart Foundation BMI calculator to see where you currently are, as well as to help monitor your progress
- Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re drinking around two litres of water a day, more if it’s warm or if you’re exercising
- Avoid food and drinks known to irritate that bladder.
- Exercise daily to help maintain weight, relax and keep constipation at bay
- Eat a diet high in fibre to keep the bowels regular and avoid constipation. You can read more tips on that in this article, Improving Urinary and Faecal Incontinence with Fibre
- Explore relaxation techniques to find one that works for you. It may be a gentle activity, meditation, yoga, mindfulness or breathing exercises. In some case, counselling might be useful.
- Pelvic floor exercises The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles that sit in the base of the pelvis and support the bladder and bowel. It’s also the muscle you clench when you want to ‘hold on’. While a stronger pelvic floor won’t alleviate the symptoms of urge incontinence, it will improve your ability to hold on when the urge strikes. It should also give you more time to get to the toilet
- Antibiotics. If the causeis an infection, a course of antibioticswill resolve both it and the urge incontinence.
- Bladder stones, an enlarged prostate or cancer all need to be medically diagnosed, and suitable treatment options identified. You’ll be able to discuss these with your doctor or specialist.
In some cases, either the cause will be untreatable (e.g. spinal injury) or unidentified; in which case, a management program is a practical option.
Living with male urge incontinence
Managing urge incontinence is relatively easy with TENA’s Men’s products. While men often find the idea of a ‘pad’ very disconcerting, there are products specifically and anatomically designed for males. You can read more in this article, Understanding Incontinence Pads for Men, which includes tips on the right style of underwear, placement, changing and disposal, as well as busting plenty of myths!
All products quickly absorb and lock away fluid, preventing bacteria from developing, which is why you stay odour-free. You can read more about that in this article, Odour Control Technology
If your urge incontinence is resulting in just a few drops or a small leak, TENA Shield may be a good option. They’re black, super-thin (only 3mm) and anatomically shaped, a bit like a protective cricket box. They’re soft, absorbent and breathable, fitting snugly and invisibly into the front of your regular briefs (not boxers). For more protection, check out the range of TENA Guards. Like TENA Shields, they’re anatomically shaped, soft and comfortable, and are available in three levels of absorbency.
For a more comprehensive comparison of these options, head to the article titled TENA Shield and TENA Guard – What’s the Difference?
If you’re losing a larger volume of urine, TENA Pants for Men will provide discreet security and comfort. Designed to look and feel like regular underwear, they’re undetectable under clothes.
Deciding on the right product can be challenging. If you’re still uncertain, try TENA’s Product Finder Tool where you can also order free samples.
Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.
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