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The ABCs of Incontinence

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By Lyn Mettler

Incontinence is a medical condition that comes with lots of medical terms. From ureters to urogynecologist and from bladder to biofeedback, talking about urinary incontinence can almost seem like learning a whole new language.

Understanding what you read and hear about bladder control issues can help you be a better advocate for yourself and make sure you have access to the treatment and management options that are right for you. Below we have compiled a simple alphabetical glossary of commonly used terms by doctors and other professionals. It's designed to be used as a reference when you come across a word you may or may not know – you might call it Incontinence 101.

Absorbent Products – Disposable or reusable pads and garments that you wear to contain urine or bowel leaks.

Biofeedback – A therapy that uses measuring devices or sensors to help you learn to identify and control the muscles around the bladder opening. Biofeedback is often used in combination with Kegels (see below) and/or electrical stimulation to relieve stress and urge incontinence.

Bladder – The organ that stores urine produced by the kidneys.

Bladder Retraining – A technique that helps you gradually increase the amount of time between urinations by resisting the first urge to go and waiting until a scheduled time. The length of time between trips to the bathroom is increased until the urge can be held off for several hours.

Catheter – A thin, flexible tube inserted into the bladder to expel urine.

Electrical Stimulation – A type of treatment during which a small instrument is placed into the vagina that delivers a tiny electrical pulse, exercising the pelvic muscles for you. This exercise helps make them stronger and more effective at stopping urine flow.

Kegels – Exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. Developed by Dr. Arnold Kegel, they have been shown to improve mild to moderate urge and stress incontinence.

Kidneys – Two bean-shaped organs that remove waste from the blood and send it to the bladder in the form of urine.

Mixed Incontinence – Incontinence that results when symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence are present.

Nocturnal Enuresis – The medical term for bedwetting, which is the involuntary release of urine at night.

Overactive Bladder (OAB) – The National Association for Continence (NAFC) defines OAB as the recurrent symptoms of urgency and frequency of urination potentially resulting in involuntary urine loss prior to reaching a toilet.

Overflow Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs due to weak bladder muscles or to blockage, causing the bladder to become full with no urge to use the bathroom.

Pelvic Muscle Exercises (PME’s) – exercises that help strength the pelvic floor by contracting the pelvic floor muscles; Kegel’s are an example of PME’s, and can be helpful in improving incontinence symptoms.

Pessary – A flexible, plastic device placed in the vagina to support the bladder, urethra and vagina to prevent urine leakage.

Prostate – A male gland about the size and shape of a walnut that surrounds the urethra and is located just below the bladder. If the prostate must be partially or totally removed because of illness, some degree of incontinence often results.

Sphincter Muscle – Any circular muscle in the body. A sphincter muscle helps keep urine from leaking around the opening of the bladder by closing tightly like a rubber band.

Stress Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs when pelvic muscles have been damaged or weakened, causing the bladder to leak during any activity that puts pressure on the bladder, such as exercise, coughing, sneezing or laughing.

Timed Voiding – A method of managing incontinence that establishes a schedule for urinating determined by individual habits, not how long one can wait before having to use the bathroom.

Urge Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs when the bladder contracts unexpectedly by itself, often leaving you unable to make it to the restroom in time (also known as Overactive Bladder, or OAB, according to the National Association for Continence).

Ureters – Tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra – A narrow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Urinalysis – A test of the urine that measures several different elements (such as protein, color, odor and clarity) in order to help find the cause of various symptoms.

Urinary Incontinence – The involuntary loss of urine.

Urinary Tract – A system in the body (made up of the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra) that collects, stores and expels liquid waste.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – An infection of the kidneys, bladder, ureters or urethra caused by bacteria. The most common urinary tract infections are cystitis (bladder) and pyelonephritis (kidney).

Urine – Liquid that is 95 percent water and 5 percent waste, which is removed from the blood by the kidneys.

Urologist – A surgeon specializing in both men's and women's urinary conditions.

Urogynecologist – An obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in the care of women with pelvic floor dysfunction.

Voiding Diary – A journal for keeping track of daily leaks and visits to the bathroom.

While this certainly isn't a comprehensive list of words you may hear in association with incontinence, it's a good basis to start from and a great way to continue your education so you can live life with confidence. For more information about any of the above topics, visit the Depend® Online Community.

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