The urinary system plays an important role in maintaining our body’s overall health and functioning. However, it’s prone to numerous issues that can impact our lives. Two such common problems are urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence.
Even though urinary infection and urinary incontinence are two different issues with unique causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches, they are often confused with each other because they both can cause sudden, strong urges to urinate and lead to embarrassing accidents. Misdiagnosis of these two conditions can result in improper treatment approach and worsening of the conditions.
In this blog, we'll provide a clear answer to the question that’s been bothering you, “How to tell the difference between urinary infection and urinary incontinence?”
What is Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Let’s focus on one thing at a time. A urinary infection, commonly referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI), occurs when bacteria make their way past the body’s natural defences and enter the urethra. The urethra is a hollow tube that leads urine from the bladder and out of the body.
However, UTIs can affect various parts of the urinary tract system, other than the urethra – which merely serves as a passage for the bacteria to wreak havoc – including the bladder, and the kidneys.
Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Infection
UTI symptoms may be minor at first, but often like to make themselves eventually known by increasing their severity. The symptoms of UTI can also vary depending on the location of the infection. Some common signs include:
• Pain or burning sensation when urinating
• Frequent and urgent need to urinate
• Cloudy or bloody urine
• Passing very little amount of urine despite strong urges
• Discomfort or pressure in the pelvic region
But when the bacteria reach the kidneys and causes kidney infection, it can cause a whole another set of symptoms:
• Chills and fever
• Nausea and vomiting
• Pain on the lower back or on one side of the back
If you notice these symptoms, then see your doctor right away; a kidney infection can lead to kidney damage if not treated quickly.
How to treat a urinary infection?
Since UTIs are caused by bacteria, antibiotics are the first line of urinary tract infection treatment. If the UTI is severe enough to involve the kidneys, then hospitalization might be necessary or require intravenous antibiotics, which is where antibiotics are injected into a vein, directly into the bloodstream.
Bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract – in other words, bacteria from the faeces – is the most common cause of UTI. So, if your goal is prevention of UTIs, proper personal hygiene is the first and foremost step. Aim to keep the area around the urethral opening clean. Any activity that can introduce bacteria into the urethra, such as sexual activities, must be followed by an effort to pee to flush out the bacteria and proper bathing. For women, always wipe from front to back.
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Now we finally reach the second part of the blog. Urinary incontinence, in simple terms, means loss of control over your bladder, resulting in urine leakage that you can’t control. More often than not, incontinence is caused by weakened or overactive muscles and nerves in the urinary system.
Now what can weaken the muscles and nerves in the urinary system, or make them overactive? Many things. Based on the causes, and the nature of the incontinence, there are ‘types’ of incontinence, and each type has their own unique set of symptoms!
Types of Urinary Incontinence and their Symptoms and Causes
1. Stress incontinence
With this type of incontinence, leakage occurs due to sudden pressure on the bladder. The urethral muscles and the pelvic floor muscles would normally prevent any urine leakage. However, for stress incontinence to develop, these muscles must have been damaged or weakened.
People with stress incontinence might experience leakage during physical activities that put pressure on their bladder, such as lifting groceries, coughing, sneezing, or even laughing.
2. Urge incontinence
Also commonly known as overactive bladder, this is the type of incontinence that’s commonly misdiagnosed as urinary infection. The most common symptom of urge incontinence is frequent, sudden, and urgent need to urinate – a major urinary and bladder infection symptom.
This condition is caused by the bladder muscles becoming too overactive, or sensitive. The causes can range from something as mild as a urinary infection or the initiation of a new medication to more serious conditions such as diabetes or neurological disorders.
3. Overflow incontinence
Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder fills up but is unable to completely empty itself. This condition is often caused by blockages, such as an enlarged prostate and bladder stones, or due to weak bladder muscles or nerve damage.
The most common symptom of overflow incontinence is constant dribbling or leakage of urine, or frequent urge to urinate with only small amounts of urine coming out.
4. Functional incontinence
Now, functional incontinence is a little different from other types of incontinence because its cause isn’t exclusively related to issues in the urinary system.
Functional incontinence happens when you lose control over your bladder due to other physical or cognitive limitations that make it challenging for you to reach the bathroom in time and urinate. In simple terms, it’s caused by external factors and conditions.
Poor lightning that prevents you from reaching the bathroom immediately is a cause of functional incontinence. At the same time, arthritis (a disease that affects the joints) which prevents the timely opening of your pant zipper is also a cause of functional incontinence. Physical barriers such as stairs and furniture, conditions and medicines that affect how your brain processes thought, conditions that affect your muscles and joints, and medicines that increase urine production, are among the many possible causes of functional incontinence.
5. Mixed incontinence
Mixed incontinence is the term we use for cases in which people experience both stress and urge incontinence. As a result, they might leak urine during physical activities that put pressure on their bladder, in addition to experiencing sudden and frequent urges to urinate.
How to Treat Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence treatment largely depends on the type of incontinence you are experiencing and its underlying cause. However, certain management strategies are recommended for all types of incontinence, along with their respective treatment approaches. And here we have it for you:
Behavioural techniques for urinary incontinence
These techniques focus on helping you regain control over your bladder and establishing a more predictable bladder emptying pattern.
• Bladder training: This training involves gradually increasing the time between bathroom visits, retraining the bladder to hold larger amounts of urine.
• Scheduled voiding: In this technique, individuals follow a fixed bathroom schedule, regardless of whether they feel the urge to urinate. By doing so, they regain some control over their bladder and reduce the risk of accidents.
• Double voiding: This technique involves waiting a few moments after urinating, and then trying to urinate again to make sure the bladder is completely emptied.
Pelvic floor exercises
The pelvic floor muscles play an important role in preventing urine leakage. By strengthening these muscles again through pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, you can treat various types of incontinence, especially stress incontinence.
Certain lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on bladder and pelvic health, helping you manage urinary incontinence better. These changes include maintaining a healthy weight, practising good bowel habits to prevent constipation, quitting smoking, and avoiding any foods and beverages that can irritate the bladder, such as caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, etc.
Now that we’ve seen what is UTI and urinary incontinence, you must have realized that the difference between them is as clear as day and night. They only overlap in one instance and are nothing alike. With this knowledge, you can prevent misdiagnosis of UTI and urge incontinence, which is sadly a common occurrence. See you in another blog!
Is urinary incontinence curable?
The curability of urinary incontinence depends on the underlying cause and type of incontinence. While some cases of urinary incontinence can be effectively managed and even resolved through lifestyle changes, exercises, medications, or surgical interventions, others may require ongoing management strategies to maintain control over bladder function.
Can urinary infections cause urinary incontinence?
Yes, urinary infections can potentially cause temporary urinary incontinence, especially if the infection affects the bladder and irritates the surrounding tissues. Inflammation and irritation from the infection can lead to increased urgency and frequency of urination, which may result in episodes of leakage. However, once the infection is treated and resolved, the associated incontinence symptoms usually improve or disappear.
Are there any risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing urinary infections or urinary incontinence?
Yes, risk factors of urinary infections include:
• Sexual activity
• Poor personal hygiene
• Menopause and pregnancy
• Old age
• Catheter use
Risk factors of urinary incontinence include:
• Old age
• Smoking and chronic cough
• Family history of incontinence
Can urinary infections lead to long-term complications if left untreated?
Yes, if urinary infections are left untreated, it can spread to the kidneys, causing a kidney infection (pyelonephritis), which can lead to severe pain, fever, and potential kidney damage.
Does incontinence go away after UTI treatment?
If incontinence is directly caused by the urinary tract infection (UTI), then incontinence often improves or disappears after successful treatments of the UTI. However, if incontinence persists even after the UTI is treated, it could be due to other factors, such as muscle weakness or nerve dysfunction. In such cases, consult your doctor to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.