What are bladder control problems?

Bladder control problems are medical conditions that prevent you from being able to control when you urinate. They are characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • increased frequency of urination (more than eight times during a 24-hour period)
  • strong, sudden urges to go to the bathroom
  • waking up to urinate (two or more times a night)
  • involuntary loss of urine (small or large)

You are not alone in living with a bladder control problem, as many Canadians (men and women of all ages) also share these problems. While there may be many different causes and degrees of severity, one thing is certain: bladder control problems are not normal in adults of any age, and you don’t have to live with them. Most bladder control problems can be successfully treated.

Types of bladder conditions

It’s important to establish the type of condition you have so you can get the right treatment. There are three major types:

Overactive Bladder

An overactive bladder means that your large bladder muscle has become too active. This can happen for a number of reasons, including minor nerve damage (sometimes from surgery or childbearing). It is characterized by those strong, sudden urges to go to the bathroom even if your bladder has little urine. You probably find yourself going to the bathroom more than eight times in a 24-hour period, which may include two or more times at night.

Oftentimes, this urge to go to the bathroom is so strong you may worry about having an accident. Since an overactive bladder usually catches you off guard, many people with this condition do have accidents.

Stress Incontinence

The muscles around your urethra keep the urine in your bladder from escaping. When these muscles become weak, even the small amount of stress created by everyday activities may cause a small amount of urine to pass. For example, acts such as coughing, sneezing, laughing exercising or lifting heavy objects can cause brief relaxation of these muscles, allowing urine to escape. In women, stress incontinence often occurs after pregnancy or menopause.

Mixed Symptoms

There are some conditions that may appear to be a bladder control problem but are not. A common one is a urinary tract infection.

With a urinary tract infection, you feel the frequent need to urinate just as if you had the symptoms of an overactive bladder. However, people who suffer from a urinary tract infection usually experience a burning sensation during urination. And oftentimes only a small amount of urine is passed. Unlike an overactive bladder, the symptoms come on very quickly.

A urinary tract infection results when bacteria begin growing in the bladder. If this is your condition, discuss it with your doctor, because it can become serious if not taken care of immediately.

The bladder control system

Every time you eat and drink your body absorbs liquids. The kidneys filter out waste products from the body fluids and make urine which is stored in your bladder.

When the bladder is full, nerves in your bladder signal the brain. That’s when you get the urge to go to the bathroom. Once you reach the toilet, your brain sends a message to the large bladder muscle to squeeze or contract. At the same time, it tells the sphincter muscles that surround your urethra to relax and let the urine through. Bladder control means you urinate only when you want to.