Incontinence, the involuntary release of urine, is a medical condition that is well known but rarely discussed.
Incontinence occurs more frequently as people get older, but it is not caused solely by aging. It results from weakening of the pelvic muscles because of childbirth, obesity, or aging (which can also reduce the size of the bladder), as well as a variety of urinary conditions, such as:
- Enlarged prostate(benign prostate hyperplasia);
- Urinary tract infections; and
- Pelvic floor dysfunction.
In a normally functioning bladder, the bladder fills to capacity after receiving typically about 8 to 16 ounces (1 to 2 cups) of urine from the kidneys. The stretch-sensitive nerves in the detrusor muscle, which makes up the bladder, then sends a signal to the spinal cord and brain, triggering an urge to urinate. Two ring-like muscular valves, an internal sphincter in the bladder neck and the external sphincter at the external outlet of the urethra, normally are closed to hold in urine flow. The internal urethral sphincter begins to relax only when the spinal cord receives the nerve signal that the bladder is full. Yet it is the brain that has final say, holding the external sphincter shut until a person can find a place to go the bathroom.
Incontinence can take several forms: stress, urge, reflex, overflow, and functional.