Incontinence is when a person cannot fully control their bladder (urinary incontinence) or their bowels (bowel incontinence). It can be embarrassing and inconvenient, but there are effective treatments.
A doctor can usually help you find a treatment to better control your symptoms. Medications are one option. They are not the only avenue of care for treating incontinence. (Learn More — Incontinence)
Medications used to treat urinary incontinence include alpha blockers (for men), topical estrogen (for women), anticholinergics, and mirabegron. Obviously, not all these drugs are good for all patients. They each have their own set of potential side effects to consider. (Learn More — Medications for Urinary Incontinence)
Medications for bowel incontinence usually come down to treating either constipation, diarrhea, or similar urgency problems. Antidiarrheals, some laxatives, and sometimes simply fiber supplements can help with urgency problems. Meanwhile, stool softeners and other kinds of laxatives can help with constipation. (Learn More — Medications for Bowel Incontinence)
Incontinence is the inability to fully control the bladder or bowels. It can be a stressful and embarrassing problem to deal with, but it is generally treatable.
If you think you may be experiencing either urinary incontinence or bowel incontinence, see a doctor as soon as possible.
While incontinence tends to be more common with age, it is not a normal or inevitable part of aging. Often, even moderate changes to your lifestyle can significantly help with regaining control, although some people may require more substantial measures, such as medication or surgery.
It may not always be possible to regain total control of your bladder or bowels. Seeing a doctor is still important as they may be able to greatly increase your ability to be mobile and live a more active life.
Medications for Urinary Incontinence
There are several medications commonly used to treat urinary incontinence, although it should be noted they may not always be necessary. If you doctor deems they are needed, they will likely be paired with lifestyle changes and potentially surgical correction.
- Alpha blockers, like Cardura, Flomax, and Rapaflo. These medications relax muscles in the prostate (and thus only help people with urinary incontinence linked to the prostate), helping to make it easier to empty your bladder. Alpha blockers can cause weight gain, dizziness, weakness, headache, and a pounding heartbeat.
- Topical estrogen. This is a vaginal cream, patch, or ring that can help the tissue located in the vagina and urethra. By helping to rejuvenate and tone the tissue, it can help reduce incontinence. Notably, systemic estrogen (taken as a pill) is not effective for this purpose and may even make incontinence worse.
Topical estrogen has a relatively long list of potential side effects, but the most common are breast pain, enlarged breasts, nausea, headache, itching or stinging around the genitals or vagina, and vaginal discharge.
- Anticholinergics, like Detrol, Toviaz, Vesicare, and Sanctura. Able to calm overactive bladders and sometimes help with urge incontinence, anticholinergics inhibit the transmission of parasympathetic nerve impulses. This can reduce muscle spasms.
Side effects of anticholinergics include dry mouth, some dental problems, hyperpyrexia, and blurred vision. In rare cases, there may be signs of dementia-like symptoms.
- Mirabegron (Myrbetriq). This medication can help to relax the bladder muscle while increasing the total amount of urine your bladder can hold. This can help you empty your bladder more completely when you urinate.
Mirabegron can have a number of side effects, including dry mouth, joint and back pain, constipation, dizziness, and headache. In some cases, it can actually make emptying the bladder more difficult.
Medications for Bowel Incontinence
As with urinary incontinence, there are a few medications commonly used to treat bowel incontinence. Again, these medications are not always the best or only solution to a problem. They may be combined with other treatments, or your doctor may decide medication is simply not the right route for you at all.
- Antidiarrheals. As the name implies, antidiarrheals can reduce symptoms of diarrhea. They help with bowel incontinence by improving stool formation and the way the anal sphincter works at rest. This all can help to reduce the urgency of your bowel movements.
Antidiarrheals can cause constipation.
- Stool softeners. In some ways, these are the opposite of antidiarrheals. Stool softeners help to soften stool that is too hard. They provide moisture to the stool and can prevent dehydration. They are often recommended to women who have given birth or people who just had surgery.
Stool softeners can cause diarrhea. Talk to your doctor if you experience this symptom, as an adjustment may be necessary.
- Laxatives. These medications are broadly meant to increase bowel function. There are several kinds of laxatives.
- Osmotic laxatives: These help to increase stool bulk by causing an influx of water into the small intestine and colon.
- Stimulant laxatives: These directly stimulate the network of nerves in the large intestine. This effects generally takes about an hour to be felt, at which point the user will likely need to use the restroom with at least some urgency, so plan ahead.
- Emollients: Emollients hydrate the bowels. They work like stool softeners, as described above.
A doctor may also prescribe that you take fiber supplements. While not a drug, fiber can add bulk to your stool and make it easier to defecate regularly and maintain bowel control.
Serious side effects from fiber are rare. Too much fiber (usually insoluble fiber, which is found in cereals and whole grains) can cause gas and distension.
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