22 March 2019

5 reasons why you might suddenly start wetting yourself

Wetting yourself is not only embarrassing, but may point to a serious underlying medical condition.

Ever laughed or sneezed so hard that a little bit of urine trickled out? Or had such a big need to go that you couldn’t keep it in?

There are a number of causes of urinary incontinence – for example pressure on the bladder, damage to the pelvic floor muscles, or an overfull bladder – and it’s a much more common condition than one might think.

It's important that you disclose it to your doctor if it starts happening suddenly, or frequently enough to affect the quality of your life.

Here are the main underlying causes that may cause sudden urinary incontinence:

1. Neurological disorders

Nerve signals from the bladder to the brain are vital in controlling the urge to urinate. When these signals are compromised, it can cause sudden urinary incontinence. Conditions that may affect the nerves include neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, injury of the spine or a brain injury.

neurological signals

2. Blockage of the urinary tract

Any obstruction of the urinary tract may interfere with the normal flow of urine, causing the bladder to overflow. Obstructions of the urinary tract, like urinary or kidney stones, can develop over time. When the flow of urine is disturbed, infections can occur. You will usually experience other symptoms such as a dull ache near your kidney area, but it’s possible that you may not feel anything for some time.

urinary tract illustration

3. Prostate cancer

If you are a man and you suddenly develop urinary incontinence, you should visit your doctor or urologist as soon as possible.

When men experience stress incontinence (pressure on the bladder), or urge incontinence (a sudden, more frequent urge to urinate), it could signal untreated prostate cancer. Incontinence is, however, more likely to develop as a result of the treatment of prostate cancer through surgery or radiation.

illustration of prostate cancer

4. An enlarged prostate gland

Older men are often affected by a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or enlarged prostate, a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.

The enlargement of the prostate distorts the urethra, obstructing the flow of urine from the bladder and leading to symptoms of an obstructive or irritative nature, including urinal incontinence. Even though an enlarged prostate may not be cancerous, you need to visit your doctor as a matter of urgency if you experience sudden urinary incontinence. Left untreated, it may lead to kidney failure, kidney stones and other urinary obstructions.

Man discussing enlarged prostate with doctor

5. The use of certain medications

If there is no other reasonable explanation for a sudden onset of urinary incontinence, check your medicine cabinet for any recent medical prescriptions. Some medications such as alpha-blockers, commonly used for treatment of high blood pressure; diuretics, used for kidney conditions; and, very rarely, some sleeping pills and anti-depressants, can suddenly cause an overactive bladder.

a variety of pills

Image credits: iStock


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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