Symptoms and Management of Teenage Incontinence
Being a teenager has its challenges. Throw in a case of incontinence and you have a situation that can not only be difficult to manage but can lead to issues with confidence or self-esteem.
Incontinence in teenagers is rare and is often likely to be the manifestation of an underlying medical or psychological problem. Treating these underlying issues is often the best way of resolving incontinence problems for good.
Unfortunately, most teenagers with incontinence believe the condition is limited to the frail or elderly, and can be ashamed of telling others about the problem. This can make it difficult for parents and medical professionals to get the right help to treat the condition.
So What is Incontinence and Why Does it Happen?
Incontinence is the involuntary leaking of urine and / or faeces. This leakage can range from mild to severe and can affect people in different ways for different reasons. Some people may only experience it at night (nocturnal incontinence) while others experience it when coughing or sneezing, this is commonly known as Stress Incontinence.
There are a few other types of incontinence that may also be present. Urge incontinence is when you leak urine along with a sudden and urgent need to urinate, while overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder cannot fully empty, leading to frequent leaking.
Incontinence problems can develop or be exacerbated by the following;
Weak or Damaged Pelvic Floor Muscles
Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder and bowels ensuring they work as they should. If they are damaged or weak for some reason, the bladder doesn’t have the support to contract and fill as it normally would. Pelvic floor exercises are an easy and effective way of strengthening these muscles which will help get things back to normal.
Urinary Tract Infection
UTIs can lead to various problems with the bladder. When an infection is present in the urinary system, the bladder is unable to function normally, leading to varying levels of leakage. A prescription of antibiotics often resolves the problems.
This can increase the pressure on your abdominal area which in turn increases pressure on your bladder. This additional or abnormal pressure can affect how your bladder is able to contract, which could lead to incontinence. Lifestyle changes which include regular exercise and a balanced diet are often an effective solution to the problem.
Teenagers may have anxiety for a number of reasons. Social and educational pressures can increase stress levels which could manifest with symptoms of incontinence. The incontinence itself can also then become an event that leads to further social anxiety.
It is important to talk to someone about any anxiety you may feel. This will help prevent the problem from get any worse.
A Family History of Incontinence
Current research has shown that there may be a genetic link that causes incontinence to run in families.
Connective Tissue Disorders
Some connective tissue disorders can lead to problems with the contraction of the bladder. An example of this type of disorder is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Specialist care is required in these cases.
Certain medications like antidepressants, diuretics and sedatives can lead to incontinence. They can affect the normal process of how urine is made and stored. Some of these medications will also increase the amount of urine you produce.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Both of these can increase the amount of urine you produce, and can also overstimulate the bladder.
Constipation can lead to overflow of faecal content leaking from your back passage. A healthy diet with plenty of water and fibre can prevent ongoing problems with constipation.
There are a number of nerves that help the bladder and bowels work effectively. These nerves can be damaged by trauma or surgery and can have an adverse effect on how the bladder and bowels function.
This means that there may be an underlying problem which has been present from birth. This may require a specialist to investigate further, as there could be structural problems causing the incontinence.
How is Incontinence Treated?
One of the most difficult things for teenagers with incontinence to do is talk about the problem. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed and possibly blame yourself, so it is important to be able to talk to someone you can trust.
Your GP may initially do some investigations to determine if there is an underlying reason for the incontinence. Initially, a simple approach will probably be taken which will include;
- Dietary / Lifestyle Changes
- Pelvic Floor Exercises
- Bladder Training
- Effectively Managing Stressful Situations e.g. Exams
- Incontinence Products - these come in the form of absorbent pads and pants to help control symptoms
If simple lifestyle changes don’t work, medication and / or surgery may be required;
Tension-free vaginal tape is an effective surgery to treat stress incontinence. This type of surgery involves placing a mesh tape under the urethra like a sling to keep it in its normal position. The tape is inserted through a few small incisions in the abdomen and vaginal wall.
Urethral sling surgery, also referred to as mid-urethral sling surgery, is a common procedure used to treat general urinary incontinence. A sling is placed around the urethra to lift it back into its normal position, placing pressure on the urethra to help with urine retention. The sling is then attached to the abdominal wall to keep it in place.
Nocturnal incontinence can be effectively treated by increasing the levels of a certain hormone called Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH). This hormone is produced in the brain and tells your kidneys how much water it needs to conserve. Desmopressin is a synthetic version of ADH, and is available in pill format or a nasal spray.Anticholinergics are medicines that help control overactive bladders. These will need to be prescribed by a doctor, so it is important to speak to your GP about the possibility of taking any medication.