Diabetes Incontinence: Causes and Prevention
Meta Description: Incontinence can feel overwhelming, but knowledge is power. Learn the causes of diabetes incontinence and how you can prevent or manage this condition today.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects your blood sugar levels, causing them to rise higher than normal. Although there are different types of diabetes, all of them have been shown to raise your risk of developing incontinence — an inability to hold your bladder or bowels when you need to use the bathroom. One study found 39% of women with diabetes were affected by incontinence. Another study suggested that people with type two diabetes specifically may be at an increased risk for incontinence.
Many people with incontinence feel overwhelmed or embarrassed at their inability to hold their bladder or bowels. If this sounds like you, it's possible you often wonder why diabetes incontinence happens and how you can prevent or manage it. Learn more about diabetes incontinence, how to prevent it, or how to stop it from getting worse, along with other useful information on the topic.
Having incontinence means losing control of your bowels or bladder, and it's a fairly common problem for people with diabetes. But this doesn't mean you always have trouble holding your urine or bowel movements. There are several types of incontinence that people with diabetes might have, which are discussed below.
Types of Incontinence
There are six main types of incontinence, which include:
- Stress incontinence: Leakage can be caused by pressure on the bladder, such as by obesity or when you cough, laugh, sneeze, run, or lift something heavy. Although the name may be misleading, stress incontinence isn't caused by psychological stress or anxiety. Besides those with diabetes, this type of incontinence can also be caused by pregnancy, childbirth, injuries, or a lack of muscle development in the abdominal region.
- Urge incontinence: Nearly everyone has felt a strong need to go to the bathroom that just can't be delayed. Those with urge incontinence feel this regularly and, for many, the sensation to empty the bladder comes with little to no warning. Without this initial feeling you'll have to go soon, an inability to reach a bathroom quickly when the urge does strike can cause urinary leakage or accidents.
- Overflow incontinence: Sometimes, you may feel a strong urge to use the bathroom but find yourself only able to release a small amount of urine. This is called overflow incontinence and is generally caused by infections, blockages, or weak bladder muscles. Since you're unable to release all your urine, the bladder eventually becomes too full and will cause leakages — even at times when you don't feel like you have to use the bathroom.
- Mixed incontinence: If you experience any combination of stress, urge, and overflow incontinence, you may be diagnosed as having mixed incontinence. The causes and symptoms vary based on the two or more types of incontinence you have.
Transient incontinence: This is a less common but generally temporary type of incontinence that's most often caused by a condition, such as a urinary tract infection, or a medication. Certain diabetes medications can cause transient incontinence, which should resolve itself once those medications are changed. This can be seen with diabetes and bowel incontinence, not just bladder leakage.
- Functional incontinence: This type of incontinence can occur when a medical issue, such as a medical or physical impairment, makes it difficult to get to the toilet when you need to urinate. With functional incontinence, you can typically still feel the urge to urinate but may have trouble navigating to the bathroom quickly or removing your clothing before urine begins to leak.
Causes of Incontinence
The underlying cause of incontinence can sometimes be hard to pinpoint and might vary based on the type of incontinence. However, a few common causes include:
- Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, prostate cancer, menopause, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and more
Pregnancy and childbirth
- Changes related to aging
- An enlarged prostate
- Obstruction anywhere along your urinary tract for urinary incontinence or your bowels for bowel incontinence
- Urinary tract infections
- Certain medications
- Excessive amounts of certain foods or drinks
- Weak pelvic muscles
- Nerve damage
- Low estrogen levels in women
Symptoms of Incontinence
The primary symptom of incontinence is the leaking of urine or stool as you go about your normal day, but there can be other symptoms of incontinence that may help your doctor determine how to best treat your condition. Examples of some common incontinence symptoms include:
- An intense urge to use the bathroom without prior warning
- Urine leakage from a physical activity
- Having to urinate more frequently throughout the night
- Wetting the bed
Transient incontinence caused by a urinary tract infection can also cause symptoms like:
- Pain in your buttocks, lower back, abdomen, and pelvic area
- Feelings of pressure in your pelvis
- Urine that looks cloudy or has a strong smell to it
- Blood in your urine
- Pain or burning when you try to urinate
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Mental changes, including confusion, generally only if the infection has spread to the kidneys
Once you understand incontinence, it's also helpful to better understand diabetes. There are several types of diabetes a person might have, each of which is discussed below. We'll also talk about the potential causes of diabetes and how you can stop or manage diabetic incontinence.
Types of Diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes someone might have. These include:
- Type 1 diabetes: This is a chronic condition where the pancreas isn't able to produce enough insulin or produces no insulin at all. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 isn't caused by lifestyle choices. Instead, a person is generally born with it or develops it early in life. However, it can also be caused by illnesses or injuries. Although there isn't a cure for type 1 diabetes, making healthy lifestyle choices and following a doctor's orders can help manage your blood sugar levels, so you avoid additional complications, such as incontinence or diabetic neuropathy.
- Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes often causes the body to not produce enough insulin, or it may resist insulin, preventing it from working properly. Often, this type of diabetes is due to lifestyle choices or a secondary problem that occurs alongside a different condition. Sometimes, type 2 diabetes can be treated with dietary changes or diabetes medications.
- Gestational diabetes: This type of diabetes occurs in pregnant women and generally resolves shortly after giving birth. However, gestational diabetes during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.
Causes of Diabetes
The root cause of diabetes depends on the type you have. In gestational diabetes, the root cause is always pregnancy. However, there are a range of potential reasons a person may develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Potential causes of type 1 diabetes include:
- Pancreatic dysfunction
- Immune system problems
- Environmental factors
- Hormonal disease
Potential causes of type 2 diabetes include:
- Physical inactivity
- Insulin resistance
- Hormonal diseases
- Certain medications
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetic Bladder Dysfunction?
The symptoms of diabetic bladder dysfunction are primarily the same as those of any incontinence type. If you experience a strong urge to go, leak urine when your bladder is under stress, or frequently have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, these could be warning signs. The primary difference is these symptoms are only indicative of diabetic bladder dysfunction when occurring in a person with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and urinary incontinence.
How Do You Stop Diabetic Incontinence?
Learning how to effectively manage your blood sugar levels is the best way to stop diabetic incontinence from starting, continuing, or getting worse. You should work with your primary healthcare provider to keep your blood glucose levels as close as possible to your target numbers. You should also avoid smoking or drinking alcohol and stay physically active so you can maintain a healthy weight.
Unfortunately, there are some instances where diabetic incontinence isn't reversible. If your high blood sugar levels or other health conditions have led to nerve damage in your bowels, bladder, or kidneys, you may not be able to prevent bladder or bowel leakage entirely. However, you can learn how to cope with diabetes and bowel or bladder incontinence.
The Link Between Incontinence and Diabetes
Many people with diabetes have no significant symptoms, especially in the beginning. Sometimes, incontinence is the first sign you have diabetes. If you've suddenly begun to suffer from incontinence, you should go to your primary healthcare provider to discuss diabetes screening.
The combination of diabetes and bowel incontinence or bladder leakage can lead to decreased mental health. Accidents can cause depression or feelings of low self-worth. You may also battle anxiety over having accidents that cause you to avoid situations or activities you once enjoyed. Diabetic incontinence isn't your fault, and it's still possible to feel confident. Speak with your doctor about how you can manage your incontinence. Learning how to cope is tremendously helpful because it gives you the confidence to not feel embarrassed or anxious about potential urinary leakage.
Diabetes increases the risk of incontinence through three significant contributing factors: nerve damage, obesity, and the effects of irregular blood sugar on the urinary tract system.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage to the urinary tract, which has the potential to ultimately cause bladder problems. Nerve damage happens when the body's blood glucose levels remain high over long periods and can happen anywhere in the body. Unfortunately, incontinence caused by nerve damage is almost never reversible. However, it is possible to stop the problem from worsening by working with your healthcare professional to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Obesity is another link between type 1 or type 2 diabetes and urinary incontinence. Sometimes, obesity is a contributing factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. Other times, obesity happens as a byproduct of diabetes. In either case, the excess weight your body carries places extra pressure on your bladder, which can cause urine leakage.
Finally, irregular blood sugar can cause a lot of problems in your body, and that includes your urinary tract. When your blood sugar is high, your bladder may not be able to function normally. This can cause urine leakage, trouble emptying your bladder, or an intense urge to go. Sometimes, these problems will go away or become less bothersome, once you bring your blood glucose levels back down to a normal range.
How to Cope With Diabetes Incontinence
If you learn how to cope with diabetes incontinence, it can help you take back control of your life and feel confident again. A combination of protective and preventative measures works best. These include:
- Using Nexwear's absorbent incontinence products to prevent urinary leakage from becoming noticeable
- Eating a healthy diet and following dietary restrictions prescribed by your doctor to control blood glucose levels
- Avoiding drinking too many fluids in the hours leading up to bedtime
- Staying active to maintain a healthy weight
- Not smoking, or getting help with quitting if you already smoke
- Avoiding drinking alcohol or taking other illicit substances
- Managing your blood pressure and getting screened regularly for other potential conditions
- Working with a therapist who understands incontinence if anxiety or depression has taken over your life
Learn More About Diabetes and Incontinence Today
Many people find they can manage or even stop their diabetic incontinence when they're able to keep their blood glucose levels close to their target numbers. Unfortunately, some people have to learn to live with diabetic incontinence following damage to the nerves, kidneys, or bladder. Either way, resources about incontinence and diabetes can help you continue living with confidence.To learn more about diabetes and incontinence, read more on our blog. You'll find a wealth of information on these and closely-related topics to help further your understanding of this subject.