What are the causes of female incontinence?

Could she have weakened pelvic floor muscles?

The bladder and outlet passage are supported and held in place by a hammock of muscles (the pelvic floor muscles) that keep the bladder closed. Muscles weaken naturally with age, and when these muscles lose their strength and flexibility even commonplace activities, such as coughing, can cause leakage. This is the most common cause of bladder weakness.

Has she experienced a loss of mobility?

This is one of the most common causes of female incontinence and can hinder a person from reacting in time to their bladder’s needs.

Does she have a mental illness?

If you are looking after someone with a mental illness, it may be that she simply cannot recognise the need to urinate or defecate or, due to her illness, fails to respond to those signals.

Has she been diagnosed with a medical condition?

Certain medical conditions, particularly those affecting the brain or nervous system – such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, multiple sclerosis and brain damage – can cause incontinence. This is due to the nerve passageways from the brain becoming damaged. The result can be either an overactive bladder (the need to go often and frequently) or an under-active bladder (ineffective emptying leading to leakage). It can also lead to faecal incontinence. Diabetes or a stroke can also bring on incontinence.

Is she taking prescribed medication for another condition?

Female incontinence can be a side-affect of certain medication. If your loved one has recently started, or changed, their medication and this has coincided with their incontinence it may be worth arranging a review with their doctor. Sometimes medications can be changed and dosages reduced, or even stopped.

Does she regularly experience urinary infections?

Urinary infections can lead to bladder hypersensitivity. The symptoms can include urgency, frequency of emptying by day and night (or in small amounts) and not being able to reach the toilet in time.

Is she regularly constipated?

Constipation is one of the most common causes of faecal incontinence. Chronic constipation could lead to an impacted hard stool in the rectum becoming too large for them to pass. As a result, the rectum muscles and intestines stretch and eventually weaken. Watery stools could also pass around the hard stool and leak out causing faecal incontinence.

Is she post-menopause?

All muscles weaken over time and, following the menopause the reduction in the quantity of oestrogen affects the abdominal muscles in particular. As a result, the bladder shifts its position and the muscles around the urinary tract become less effective.

Is she overweight?

If the person you care for is overweight, this can put additional pressure on the abdominal and pelvic muscles, leading to urine leaks.

Does she smoke?

A smoker’s cough can be an indirect cause of leakage, mainly because of the frequency and abnormal violence involved in each cough. Another factor for smokers is the increased risk of contracting circulatory diseases and the subsequent prescription of diuretic medicines which also increase the likelihood of leakage.

Is she still a child?

The above causes may not apply if you are caring for a child so you may want to visit the children’s section of the park for specific causes of incontinence in children.

If you’re unsure of the cause of your loved one’s incontinence, read about causes or go to types of incontinence for more help.