Table of Contents
Treatment for temporary incontinence can be rapid, simple, and effective. If urinary tract infections are the cause, they can be treated with antibiotics. Any related incontinence will often clear up in a short time. Medications that cause incontinence can be discontinued or changed to halt episodes.
Chronic incontinence may require a variety of treatments, depending on the cause. Treatment options are listed below in the order in which they are usually tried, from least-to-most invasive:
- Behavioral techniques, which include pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises and bladder training, are sometimes all a person needs for achieving continence. A number of devices can also be used to strengthen muscles and prevent urine leakage. Bladder training is useful for urge incontinence.
- Medications are tried next. Often, these involve anticholinergics. Estrogen or estrogen plus progesterone used to be recommended, but recent research has shown that these hormone treatments can actually make urinary incontinence worse.
- Surgery. Surgery is the last resort. There are many effective procedures available for stress incontinence.
Lifestyle techniques to improve quality of life and improve hygiene are part of all treatments.
General Approach for Treating Specific Forms of Incontinence
Lifestyle measures, including dietary recommendations, bladder training, and continent aids, are useful for anyone with incontinence. Other treatments vary depending on whether the patient has stress or urge incontinence. In people who have both, the treatment usually is aimed at the predominant form.
Treating Stress Incontinence. The general goal for women with stress incontinence is to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Typical steps for treating women with stress incontinence are:
- Devices and continent aids for blocking urine in the urethra (vaginal pessaries, adhesive pads, and others).
- Behavioral techniques and noninvasive devices, including Kegel exercises, weighted vaginal cones, and biofeedback.
- Medications. Alpha-adrenergic agonists and possibly anticholinergics.
- Surgery is a reasonable option if symptoms do not improve with noninvasive methods.There are many surgical techniques. Most are designed to restore the bladder neck and urethra to their anatomically correct positions.
Treating Urge Incontinence. The goal of most treatments for urge incontinence is to reduce the hyperactivity of the bladder. The following methods may be helpful:
- Behavioral methods
- Medications (anticholinergics and alpha blockers)
- Procedures that stimulate the pelvic floor or nerves in the tailbone (the sacral nerves), which help retrain the bladder
Review Date: 07/26/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.