Causes of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is when a child can’t control her bladder and wets herself during the day. It’s accidental, and there are a few different 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.

For some children stress can cause urinary incontinence. For example, stressful life events like starting school, the birth of a new sibling, or parents separating can mean that children can’t focus on going to the toilet by themselves. They might start to accidentally wet themselves as a result.

Children who have daytime wetting often also experience bedwetting at night. Usually treatment will focus on daytime wetting first and then look at night-time wetting.

Daytime wetting is accidental and isn’t your child’s fault. It can be frustrating and worrying for you at times, so it’s good to know there are effective treatment options available to help your child.

Symptoms of urinary incontinence

The main symptom of urinary incontinence is your child wetting himself during the day because he can’t control his bladder.

How often a child wets herself 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.

When to see your doctor about urinary incontinence

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 an incontinence specialist.

Treatment for urinary incontinence in children

There are many different treatment options for urinary incontinence, and the right treatment for your child will depend on what’s causing the incontinence.

Behaviour modification
The most common treatment for urinary incontinence is behaviour modification, which is also called urotherapy.

This involves giving your child information about how his lower urinary tract works, and also about:

  • going to the toilet regularly
  • not holding on when he needs to wee
  • recognising the signs of needing to do a wee.

Your child might be asked to keep a diary of how often she goes to the toilet, how long in between wees, and how often she wets herself.

The doctor might also ask you to measure the amount of wee your child produces when he goes to the toilet, and how much your child drinks each day. 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 help treat daytime wetting. The type of medication depends on the cause. If your doctor prescribes medication, it’s a good idea to ask why. You can also ask about 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.