What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is when children can’t control their bladders and wet themselves during the day. It’s accidental.
Causes of urinary incontinence
Urinary incontinence has various causes.
Sometimes urinary incontinence happens because children’s bladders, genitals, urinary tracts or urethras haven’t developed properly, which means they don’t work properly.
Some children have overactive bladders, which means their bladders don’t store urine the way they’re supposed to. This can make children suddenly feel like they have to do a wee, so they wet themselves.
Other children have underactive bladders, which means they can’t empty their bladders fully, so wee can dribble out before or after they go to the toilet.
Constipation and urinary tract infections (UTI) can cause temporary daytime wetting for some children.
Stressful life events – like starting school, the birth of a new sibling, or parents separating – can make it hard for some children to focus on going to the toilet by themselves. They might accidentally wet themselves as a result.
Children who have daytime wetting often also experience bedwetting at night.
Daytime wetting is accidental. It can be frustrating and worrying, so it’s good to know there are effective treatment options that can help your child.
Symptoms of urinary incontinence
The main symptom of urinary incontinence is children accidentally wetting themselves during the day.
How often children wet themselves during the day varies. It can be:
- continuous, which means the child has an uncontrollable dribble of wee and has never had a period of dryness
- intermittent, which means the child has periods of dryness during the day.
Whether urinary incontinence is continuous or intermittent depends on what’s causing the incontinence.
Should you see a doctor about urinary incontinence in children?
You should see your GP for advice about treatment and management if your child is older than five years and:
- is experiencing urinary incontinence more than once a month
- has never had a period of dryness.
When you see the GP, the GP might start by doing a physical examination of your child’s tummy, lower back and genitals. The GP might also test your child’s urine.
The GP might refer your child to a continence nurse or medical specialist.
Treatment for urinary incontinence in children
There are many different treatment options for urinary incontinence. The right treatment for your child will depend on what’s causing the incontinence.
The most common treatment for urinary incontinence is behaviour modification, which is also called urotherapy.
This involves giving children information about how their bodies store and get rid of wee, and also about:
- going to the toilet regularly
- not holding on when they need to wee
- recognising the signs of needing to do a wee.
Your child might need to keep a diary of how often they go to the toilet, how long they go between wees, and how often they wet themselves.
Your child might also need to keep track of how much they drink and how much wee they do when they go to the toilet. As part of the treatment, your child will probably be asked to wee at particular times throughout the day.
In some cases, the doctor might prescribe medication to treat daytime wetting. The type of medication depends on the cause. Your doctor can explain why medication is needed and whether it has any side effects.
Other treatment options
Depending on the cause of your child’s urinary incontinence, there are other treatment options. These treatment options are for more complex cases of incontinence, and your GP will usually refer you to a specialist for advice about these options.