Bladder control problems in women: Seek treatment

Recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a bladder control problem. Know when you should seek a doctor's help and how you can get the most out of your visit. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're one of the many women who experience bladder control problems, don't let embarrassment keep you from getting the help you need. Leaking urine, having to urinate frequently and experiencing other symptoms of urinary incontinence aren't trivial consequences of childbirth or a natural part of aging.

Not all doctors routinely ask about urinary function during an exam. It's up to you to take the first step. If you have bladder control problems, tell your doctor about them and ask for help.

Why to seek help

Bladder control problems require medical attention for several reasons. Reduced bladder control may, for instance:

  • Indicate a serious underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or kidney problems
  • Cause you to restrict your physical activities
  • Lead you to withdraw from social interactions
  • Increase your risk of falling if you have balance problems and you often rush to the bathroom to avoid leaking urine

When to seek help

A few isolated incidents of urinary incontinence don't necessarily require medical attention. But if the problem continues or affects your quality of life, consider getting these symptoms evaluated.

Make an appointment with your primary care provider if:

  • You're embarrassed by urine leakage, and you avoid important activities because of it.
  • You often feel urgency to urinate and rush to a bathroom, but sometimes don't make it in time.
  • You urinate much more frequently than you used to, such as at night, even when you don't have a bladder infection.
  • You often feel the need to urinate, but you're unable to pass urine.
  • You notice that your urine stream is getting progressively weaker, or you feel as if you can't empty your bladder well.

In most circumstances, symptoms can be improved.

When to seek a specialist

Many health care providers can treat bladder control problems without referring you to a specialist. But not all have the necessary training or experience. In spite of better understanding and treatment of urinary incontinence, some providers consider it an inevitable consequence of childbearing, menopause or normal aging — a belief that makes them unlikely to consider you for evaluation or treatment.

If your doctor dismisses significant symptoms or seems uninformed about the many possible treatments, ask for referral to a specialist. Doctors who specialize in urinary disorders include:

  • Urogynecologist. This is an obstetrician-gynecologist with additional training in problems that affect a woman's pelvic floor — the network of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and nerves that helps support and control the bladder and other pelvic organs.
  • Urologist. A urologist specializes in male and female urinary disorders, as well as the male reproductive system.
  • Geriatrician. This medical doctor specializes in the care of older adults, often with emphasis on problems related to common quality-of-life issues, such as urinary incontinence.
Feb. 06, 2013 See more In-depth