Storms of Incontinence: Causes of Incontinence

Patient Expert

Whew - that was close I drove home from work today and after parking decided to run a few errands on foot in my neighborhood since it was warm and sunny. I started at the post office, and after being in there for just about five minutes, I walked outside to find dark and cloudy skies.

We Chicagoans have a joke that we live by: if you don't like the weather, wait a minute. So I knew that even though only a few moments had passed since the skies were blue and sunny, time was running out before a storm blew in - and quickly! I high-tailed it home, and started checking emails, making phone calls, and basically going about my usual work, figuring I was safely inside and away from the impending storm.

Everything was relatively calm and quiet, and the weather seemed nothing out of the ordinary other than the rising humidity that often comes before a downpour. Then, suddenly, the rain started pouring from the sky by the bucket-load, and wind started whipping through the house from the open windows.

I often talk about how incontinence generally sets in gradually and insidiously, slowly taking over your quality of life, often without you even realizing it. This experience reminded me that for some, incontinence can come on as quickly and suddenly as a storm, as the result of a car accident, traumatic childbirth experience, or surgery. In these cases, it doesn't matter what preventative measures you took, or could have taken, and it doesn't matter how often you did your pelvic floor exercises.

When incontinence sets in slowly, the individual has a chance to adjust gradually, making slight changes in diet, plans, and habits to accommodate the changes. When incontinence comes on suddenly and without warning, the individual is forced to confront the problem head-on, often without any prior knowledge about what is happening to their body, and few resources for dealing with the many physical, as well as emotional components.

At the same time, when incontinence comes on quickly, it is usually compounded by other symptoms, complications, or life changes. When incontinence sets in after injuries sustained in a car accident, there are usually a wealth of other, potentially life-threatening injuries to deal with at the same time. When incontinence is the result of childbirth, the new mother now has an infant to care for in addition to her own needs. When incontinence follows surgery, the patient has to recover from the surgery itself, and may be undergoing radiation or chemo at the same time (in the case of surgery for prostate cancer).

Obviously, the "other complications" in all of these cases cannot be ignored. Recovering from life-threatening injuries or cancer, or sustaining a new little life, must become the first priority. As devastating as the incontinence may be, it often has to take a back-seat to simple survival. Once incontinence has been pushed to the back-burner, it's all too easy to keep it there, even after the injuries have been treated or the cancer is in remission. Life keeps marching on, and so do you, without giving your misbehaving bladder or misbehaving bowel the attention that they need and deserve.

However anxious you may be to get back to your life, however tired you may be of dealing with hospitals and doctors, and however grateful you may be that incontinence is "the worst of it" at this point, don't forget that it still can have a tremendous impact on your life. We always say that while incontinence isn't life-threatening, it certainly can threaten your quality of life. Treatments varying from surgery to pharmaceutical to physical therapy do exist, and only a qualified medical professional can help you sort out the best one for your situation. In some cases, incontinence can come on as quickly as a storm, but often that storm doesn't die down until you choose to take the next steps.