What to Know About Male Incontinence
by Gary Sattin on Oct 04, 2022
Millions of people struggle with urinary incontinence at some point in their lifetime, including many men. Individuals suffer from lack of control because health issues, ranging from neurological disorders to muscular dysfunction, cause disruptive incontinence symptoms. Because the umbrella of these disorders and struggles is so large, with millions affected by Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, epilepsy, autism, and muscular weakness, it shouldn’t surprise you if you deal with incontinence. One study even found that, though incontinence is more prevalent in women, as many as one-fifth of men 65 and older experience uncontrolled urine loss while one in twenty men between 19 and 44 have similar symptoms.
Though incontinence episodes are embarrassing, and you may not want to open up about your struggles, the sheer number of people dealing with daily incontinence should comfort you some. There are other men who share your “normal,” struggle with how to cope with bladder leakage, and take similar steps to managing symptoms. If you are a man looking to address your incontinence, this is what to know about male incontinence and the measures others have taken to gain back their freedom.
The Male Urinary System
First, it’s useful to take a step back and understand how the male urinary system works. There are two muscles that are important here—the urinary bladder and urethral sphincter. The bladder holds urine delivered from the kidneys and relaxes when you’re at rest. The urethral sphincter is a muscle that, when constricted, keeps urine from exiting the urethra, a tube that leads from the bladder out of your body. Naturally, it’s constricted when you’re resting. When urinating, these muscles switch—the bladder constricts to force the urine out, and the urethral sphincter relaxes so urine can pass.
Incontinence develops when you cannot control these muscles appropriately. Neurological disorders like diabetes lead to nerve deterioration and subsequent lack of muscle control. Weakened urethral muscles cannot tense appropriately, resulting in leakage. If something blocks the urethra, urine accumulates in the bladder and leads to incontinence. Your urinary habits also come into play here—if you (inadvertently) train your bladder to constrict too strongly or incompletely void urine, then you may have an issue too. Specific reasons explain why men have trouble with these urinary muscles, but interventions can provide help.
Prostate Issues and Incontinence
One such factor affecting male incontinence is the condition of the prostate. The prostate is a walnut-size gland located around the urethra, and its enlargement can affect urinary functioning. When enlarged because of benign prostatic hyperplasia (or BPH), the prostate blocks normal urine flow through the urethra. One epidemiological study compiled recent literature on BPH and found that 8 percent of men in their 30s, 50 percent of men in their 50s, and 80 percent of men in their 70s experience some degree of prostate enlargement. That means tens of millions of people have a condition that often affects urinary function.
Prostate Cancer and Surgery
Prostate enlargement is a common issue, but there are other ways your prostate affects the presence of incontinence. Malignant prostate cancer is a more unpredictable malady that restricts the urethra, and surgery to remove the prostate involves its own side effects. Incontinence after prostate surgery has its own name—post-prostatectomy. Prostate surgery sometimes damages the urethral sphincter, inhibiting muscular control over urination. Another hypothesis is that, when the prostate is absent, the urethra lacks its typical physical support and allows leakage. These are examples of stress incontinence, meaning that incontinence is especially common when straining your body by lifting or being active.
Contact a medical professional if you would like to assess your prostate condition or discuss your experience of incontinence after surgery. Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound or urodynamic testing to understand your urinary dysfunction better. Urodynamic testing is undergone to isolate what’s going wrong and specifically tests your bladder, urethra, and related muscles. Essentially, it determines whether your bladder appropriately holds and then completely voids urine.
Difficulties Men Have With incontinence
Men have several unique urinary difficulties. Sitting too long affects their urinary system, and men often hold strenuous jobs that can lead to stress incontinence. Also many men are unfamiliar with garments similar to incontinence pads.
The Harm of Sitting
Sitting for long periods of time produces many detrimental health effects. One of these is a higher rate of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (or LUTS) when sitting for more than five hours a day. This encompasses urinary symptoms like trouble completely emptying your bladder and frequent urination. These results pertain to men, but there is a possible correlation between sitting and impaired urinary function for women as well.
Typically more men than women hold physically strenuous jobs that stress the body overall. When you suffer from incontinence and your abdominal muscles strain, stress incontinence is more likely. This makes daily management of incontinence harder for those men and means that an extreme degree of incontinence inhibits their ability to work.
Unfamiliar with Pads
Men also struggle committing to and being consistent with using absorbent incontinence products because they do not wear pads like women do during their menstrual cycle. They have no sense of pads’ comfort after long-term use or their ability to hold urine completely. For this reason, whether it be due to shame or unfamiliarity, men hesitate to use them. The reality is that incontinence garments are helpful tools for managing incontinence without experiencing an accident. Practice is all that’s needed to realize these products are reliable and help you regain control over your daily life. For those worried about using pads and their ability to hold urine, TotalDry Maximum Pads are a good high-capacity option.
Another aspect to know about male incontinence is how exactly men can treat or manage their loss of control. Some practices are universal—Kegel muscle exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and restore some muscular control are applicable to men and women. Training and paying attention to your biofeedback are key as well. This can involve isolating your physiological triggers for going, such as when you stand up, and being mindful of those. Keeping a urination journal helps as well with understanding your habits and instituting changes.
Surgical procedures to address incontinence are a last resort and advisable only with a doctor’s recommendation. That said, there are two male-specific interventions. A male sling moves the urethra to improve its functioning. To address urethral issues in another way, surgeons put in an artificial urinary sphincter meant to inflate and deflate to act as your urethra and prevent leaks. Whether surgery is right for you or you begin to retrain your urinary system, incontinence is manageable over time and need not excessively affect your daily life.