Incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements or urination. The loss of urine or loss stool can be embarrassing and stressful. It also irritates the skin and can cause infection if scrupulous attention to hygiene is not taken. While incontinence is more common in older people, illness and injury can cause this problem in people of all ages.
Many people who suffer from bowel (fecal) or urinary incontinence don’t realize it’s a medical problem that could be improved with treatment. A complete medical assessment to determine the cause of incontinence is an important step to finding the best treatment.
Bowel control requires three components. A functioning anal sphincter, adequate room in the rectum to store stool until it is formed, and the sensation that the rectum is full all play a part in preventing the leakage of stool.
The most common problem that causes fecal incontinence is damage to the anal sphincter, a specialized muscle that control bowel function. The normal process of aging can cause incontinence through a combination of these factors. Chronic medical problems like diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries can cause this problem at any age. In women, muscle and nerve damage from difficult childbirth is one of the most frequent reasons for loss of bowel control. Interestingly, subtle injuries may not cause symptoms until many years later.
These are different types of urinary incontinence, but the causes of each are quite similar. As people get older, the muscles that support the bladder, called the pelvic floor, can become weaker. Constipation and loss of bowel sensation leads to a chronically full bowel and can impact bladder control. Neurological disorders can also cause problems with urinary control. Chronic urinary tract infections, diabetes or the effects of medications are another possible cause. Mobility problems can make it difficult to get to the bathroom quickly enough.
Gender related conditions may also contribute to poor bladder control. For men, enlargement of the prostate, or prostate treatment can interfere with urinary continence. For women, hormonal changes that occur with menopause may lead to loss of bladder control.
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