Bladder Control Problems in Elderly Men


Many men develop bladder control problems as they get older. Urine leakage, frequent urination and an urgent need to urinate are embarrassing symptoms to deal with, but they don’t have to be unavoidable parts of aging. There are many successful treatment options available for bladder control problems in males.

Common Male Bladder Control Issues

Men can develop several types of bladder control problems, each with unique symptoms. However, it is possible for multiple health conditions to create overlapping continence issues.

Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence (UI) is the accidental leakage of urine. There are many kinds of UI and each one is characterized by different symptoms and reasons behind the leakage.

  • Stress incontinence occurs when actions like coughing, sneezing or lifting a heavy object put pressure on the bladder and cause urine to leak.
  • Urge incontinence occurs when a man experiences a sudden, strong urge to urinate. This type of UI is characterized by difficulty getting to the bathroom in time.
  • Overflow incontinence occurs when a man has the urge to urinate but can only pass small amounts of urine each time. Because the bladder does not empty fully, urine accumulates and leaks consistently later on.

Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder (OAB) is a condition in which the bladder contracts to squeeze urine out at the wrong time. It is a type of urge incontinence. Your loved one may have OAB if he experiences two or more of these symptoms:

  • Urination eight or more times a day or two or more times at night
  • The sudden, strong need to urinate immediately
  • Urine leakage that follows a sudden, strong urge to urinate (OAB does not always cause UI)

UI and OAB may be caused by prostate, muscle or nerve problems, but in other instances, the cause of overactive bladder is not clear.

Prostate Problems

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body) in men. A man may experience prostate enlargement (also referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) as he ages. As the prostate gland gets bigger, it may squeeze the urethra and result in a weak urine stream, difficulty starting urination, an urgent need to urinate followed by leakage and/or frequent urination, especially at night. BPH is not to be confused with prostate cancer, however both conditions can share many urinary symptoms.

Other Causes of Bladder Control Problems

Surgery or radiation treatments for prostate cancer can lead to temporary or permanent bladder control problems.

Damaged nerves may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time or send no signals at all, leading to bladder control problems. Spinal cord injuries and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and stroke may cause nerve problems as well.

Lifestyle choices like prescription medications, obesity, limited mobility, constipation, and sensitivities to foods and beverages may also cause or exacerbate bladder control issues.

Treatments to Improve Bladder Control

As a general rule, the simplest and safest treatments should be considered first. Lifestyle changes and alterations to daily habits are the best place to start. For example, limiting fluids at certain times of the day, like in the hours before bed, and planning regular trips to the bathroom can help an elderly man avoid accidents. Losing weight, avoiding foods and drinks that irritate the bladder, and exercising regularly can also minimize symptoms of OAB and UI.

Encourage your loved one to talk to their doctor about their bladder control issues; there’s no need to be embarrassed. Their physician may be able to prescribe medicine to calm abnormal nerve signals to the bladder. Other medicines can be used to relax the bladder or shrink the prostate to improve urine flow. Surgery is a treatment option that is often considered as a last resort, but surgical procedures can help correct bladder control problems caused by nerve damage or irregularities of the urinary tract.

There are several ways to “train” the bladder using techniques like timed voiding and pelvic floor exercises. Ask your doctor about bladder control techniques that can help. Bladder training usually takes time to improve symptoms, so it is wise to use incontinence products throughout this process to prevent accidents.

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Frequent or painful urination, especially with blood in the urine, could be signs of a more serious underlying condition, such as prostate cancer, bladder cancer, bladder stones or a urinary tract infection (UTI). If your loved one exhibits these symptoms, it’s important to notify their doctor immediately.

Source: The National Institutes of Health (NIH),

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