I always find it interesting that while I am taking care of a patient for something, often another family member will say to me, "You know, I should come see you." Many times it is for incontinence, and it is something they have been dealing with for years.
Many people, women in particular, have ignored their symptoms of incontinence and overactive bladder because they felt it was all a part of aging. Many women will tell me that their mother and grandmother had incontinence and just dealt with it, so they felt they had to deal with it as well. As I have stressed time and time again, incontinence is not normal and should be evaluated first to help you get better, and second, to make sure it is not a sign of something worse.
The most serious and worrisome diagnosis in someone with urgency and frequency of urination would be cancer in the bladder. When a patient comes into my office with these symptoms, cancer is the first thing I work them up for. Incontinence for the most part is not that common, but the irritative voiding symptoms are often a first sign of a low grade cancer.
Bladder cancer is a very interesting cancer. Found at a low grade or stage is remarkably treatable by minimally invasive means. Found at later stages makes it a very challenging disease to cure. This is why all urologists are vigilant about evaluating and finding bladder cancer early. If you have signs and symptoms consistent with overactive bladder like frequently urinating and have a sudden urge to go which is hard to control, make sure you get some simple tests done instead of just allowing your physician to place you on medications.
Another situation which can cause you to have overactive bladder and some incontinence is kidney stones. Whenever I tell people this, they often report that they have no pain and wouldn't they have pain if they had a kidney stone? Not necessarily.
If you have a small stone stuck in the tube that travels from the kidney to the bladder, called the ureter, it may only cause some bladder symptoms and not necessarily pain. Recently, I found two young women who had these bladder symptoms for over a year and it was discovered that they each a kidney stone very low down irritating the bladder.
There are other causes for urgency and frequency as well, like a urinary tract infection. This too can cause incontinence. Most of the time, the testing for the above mentioned situations are easy, and I think it is worth the extra time it may take to make sure you don't have something more serious. If you are not seeking medical attention for your bladder symptoms because you don't think it is a big deal, think again. Even if you choose not to have any treatment for your incontinence, please see a doctor and make sure that is all it is!