Adult Enuresis

Patient Expert

While following this recent community SharePost (, I realized just how many people on this website are dealing with enuresis (bedwetting). While I've written a good deal about childhood enuresis, I think I've neglected to write about adults who experience enuresis.

Enuresis during adulthood is complicated to say the least. Some adults never "outgrew" bedwetting as a child. Others may have wet the bed into their late childhood or teen years and then through medication or behavioral changes stopped bedwetting, only to relapse later in life. Still others had no problem with enuresis during childhood, but for some reason started experiencing it as an adult - in this case in particular there is usually an underlying cause that is important to sort out with a medical professional.

Regardless of how or when enuresis began, one of the most frustrating components is figuring out what exactly causes it, and how to treat it. Incontinence is never normal, and you should always go to a doctor so that they can rule out any major underlying medical cause, but the sad fact is that in many cases of enuresis which carries over from childhood, the cause can't be pinned down, and finding a successful treatment can be even harder.

Therefore, the discussion of adult enuresis generally turns to management. Because most people with adult enuresis have been struggling with it for so long, they have a good sense of which absorbent products work best for their specific needs. What is more often the ongoing struggle is, as the SharePost referenced above suggests, dealing with other people, and their reactions, including family, friends, and lovers.

Any and all types of incontinence seem to carry some level of stigma, but the stigma felt by those with adult enuresis is among the worst. I would venture to guess that this is because "bedwetting" is something we associate with children, and particularly our own childhood. I'm starting to think that are generally two types of people in the world: those who wet the bed as a child, or those who teased the children who did. Whichever category you fall into, chances are good that you remember the torment that you either endured or inflicted in your earlier years (or even just witnessed), and this trauma will no doubt follow you into your adult challenges with enuresis, at least in your own head if not also in reality.

Sadly, as with all types of stigmatized health conditions, there is no quick and easy answer for dealing with the reactions (or perceived reactions) of others, so here are just a few tips. First, keep in mind that important distinction between "reaction" and "perceived reaction". It's all too easy to make assumptions about what those around as are thinking, when in reality those who we don't know very well are probably not even thinking about us at all (after all, why would they spend their own precious time worrying about someone they don't know), and those who are near and dear are probably concerned for our happiness and well-being - even if they express those feelings differently than we would like.

Secondly, I find that the people around us tend to perceive situations in the way in which they are presented - if you're embarrassed, they're embarrassed. This is where choosing the appropriate language becomes incredibly important. Whenever I discuss incontinence, I always start with the phrase "A medical condition called incontinence" (or, "A medical condition called enuresis"). This immediately sets the frame of mind to thinking in medical, clinical terms, rather than immediately jumping to preconceived notions of associating incontinence with old women or bedwetting with children.

Will these tips change your life? Probably not, but they might, just might, remove a bit of the apprehension that's all too easy to feel when dealing with enuresis. And that stress isn't good for anyone (stay tuned for more on the topic of stress and healthcare in my next SharePost).