Diabetes And Urinary Incontinence: Types, Causes, and Treatment

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What do a long walk through the woods, watching a great movie, and an excellent cup of coffee all have in common? They can be torture if you deal with urinary incontinence.

People with diabetes are more likely to experience urinary incontinence (the accidental release of urine), and this is especially frustrating given that one of the primary symptoms of diabetes is frequent urination: the two do not mix well.

As of 2015, about 15 millions Americans experienced urinary incontinence, and the vast majority of those were women. Risk of incontinence increases with age, and women with diabetes have up to a 70 percent greater risk of incontinence than their non-diabetic peers. Ladies, it’s just not right.

How does diabetes affect incontinence?

It’s reasonably well-known that the high blood sugar associated with diabetes causes the kidneys to increase urine production, causing the need to urinate frequently and possibly contributing to incontinence.

But neuropathy may also play a role. Neuropathy refers to the nerve damage caused by high blood sugar, and is most known for its tendency to decrease circulation and cause damage to the feet and legs. But neuropathy can also damage the autonomic nervous system that controls automatic body processes like respiration, digestion, and the urinary tract.

Types of incontinence

Diabetes will not necessarily cause incontinence, and the frequent need to rush to the restroom or loss of urine can be caused by multiple factors. If you’re experiencing incontinence, it’s best to talk to your doctor so that you can nail down the underlying cause and start effective treatment. Here are the five basic types of incontinence:

1. Overactive bladder or Urge incontinence

Overactive bladder means that someone will experience an increasing desire to urinate and/or urine loss due to some stimulus like approaching a bathroom, listening to running water, or being exposed to sudden cold. They may also need to use the bathroom frequently during both the day and night. The condition may also manifest as a strong, sudden desire to urinate, possibly accompanied by urine loss.

2. Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence describes unintentional loss of urine due to a particular stressor, like sneezing, laughing, lifting something heavy, or standing up quickly. This type of incontinence occurs when the muscles responsible for supporting the urethra are too weak to hold the urethra closed when under pressure. Stress incontinence does not refer to mental or emotional stress.

3. Mixed incontinence

Mixed incontinence refers to a combination of stress and urge incontinence/overactive bladder.

4. Overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence is not caused by not being able to hold urine in, but by the inability to completely empty the bladder during urination. The bladder has trouble contracting, and the unreleased urine may leak later when the bladder becomes too full. A person with overflow incontinence may not be able to feel when their bladder is full.

This particular type of incontinence is more common in men, and can be caused by bladder stones or tumors, pelvic surgery, some medications, or (in women) the prolapse, or sagging, of the uterus or bladder. Overflow incontinence may also be caused by nerve damage caused from conditions like MS or diabetes.

5. Functional incontinence

Functional incontinence is a little different in that it isn’t caused by a malfunction of the bladder at all, but by an unrelated mental or physical challenge that prevents someone from using the restroom in a timely manner. If someone has a condition that makes using a toilet difficult, like severe arthritis, or a cognitive disease that interferes with their ability to recognize their need to use the bathroom, they may struggle with functional incontinence.

“NEXT” for incontinence prevention and treatment


Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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