The treatment for a bladder control problem depends on the cause of the nerve damage and the type of voiding dysfunction that results.
In the case of overactive bladder, your doctor may suggest a number of strategies, including bladder training, electrical stimulation, drug therapy, and, in severe cases where all other treatments have failed, surgery.
Bladder training. Your doctor may ask you to keep a bladder diary-a record of your fluid intake, trips to the bathroom, and episodes of urine leakage. This record may indicate a pattern and suggest ways to avoid accidents by making a point of using the bathroom at certain times of the day-a practice called timed voiding. As you gain control, you can extend the time between trips to the bathroom. Bladder training also includes Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles that hold in urine.
Electrical stimulation. Mild electrical pulses can be used to stimulate the nerves that control the bladder and sphincter muscles. Depending on which nerves the doctor plans to treat, these pulses can be given through the vagina or anus, or by using patches on the skin. Another method is a minor surgical procedure to place the electric wire near the tailbone. This procedure involves two steps. First, the wire is placed under the skin and connected to a temporary stimulator, which you carry with you for several days. If your condition improves during this trial period, then the wire is placed next to the tailbone and attached to a permanent stimulator under your skin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this device, marketed as the InterStim system, to treat urge incontinence, urgency-frequency syndrome, and urinary retention in patients for whom other treatments have not worked.
A device can be placed under your skin to deliver mild electrical pulses to the nerves that control bladder function.
Drug therapy. Different drugs can affect the nerves and muscles of the urinary tract in different ways.
- Drugs that relax bladder muscles and prevent bladder spasms include oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan), tolterodine (Detrol), hyoscyamine (Levsin), and propantheline bromide (Pro-Banthine), which belong to the class of drugs called anticholinergics. Their most common side effect is dry mouth, although large doses may cause blurred vision, constipation, a faster heartbeat, and flushing. A new patch delivery system for oxybutynin (Oxytrol) may decrease side effects. Ditropan XL and Detrol LA are timed-release formulations that deliver a low level of the drug continuously in the body. These drugs have the advantage of once-a-day administration. In 2004, the FDA approved trospium chloride (Sanctura), darifenacin (Enablex), and solifenacin succinate (VESIcare) for the treatment of overactive bladder.
- Drugs for depression that also relax bladder muscles include imipramine hydrochloride (Tofranil), a tricyclic antidepressant. Side effects may include fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and insomnia.
Additional drugs are being evaluated for the treatment of overactive bladder and may soon receive FDA approval.
Surgery. In extreme cases, when incontinence is severe and other treatments have failed, surgery may be considered. The bladder may be made larger through an operation known as augmentation cystoplasty, in which a part of the diseased bladder is replaced with a section taken from the patient’s bowel. This operation may improve the ability to store urine but may make the bladder more difficult to empty, making regular catheterization necessary. Additional risks of surgery include the bladder breaking open and leaking urine into the body, bladder stones, mucus in the bladder, and infection.