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Glossary of Incontinence Terms

Refer to this list of helpful terms associated with incontinence conditions and treatments.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): An enlarged prostate not caused by cancer. BPH can cause problems with urination because the prostate squeezes the urethra at the opening of the bladder.

Biofeedback: A means of bladder retraining that uses a sensor placed in the vagina of the female or the anus of a male, connected to a computer or home therapy unit that shows how the muscles of the pelvic floor are contracting and relaxing. Biofeedback enables you to focus on contracting the correct muscles of the pelvic floor as a means of improving continence.

Bladder: A balloon-shaped organ inside the pelvis that holds urine.

Bladder retraining: Bladder retraining is an education program that teaches you how to restore a normal pattern of urination by setting scheduled trips to the bathroom, with the goal achieving longer time intervals between each trip.  Bladder retraining encourages the use of slow, deep breathing to relax and reduce or eliminate the urge and performing five or six rapid intense pelvic muscle contractions (Kegel exercises).

Catheter: A tube inserted through the urethra to the bladder in order to drain urine.

Collagen: The major protein found in tissues, cartilage, and bones. Collagen injections are sometimes used to treat stress urinary incontinence.

Continence: The ability to exercise control over urination or a having bowel movement until an appropriate time and place can be found.

Cystocele: Another term for a prolapsed or fallen bladder. When the bladder moves from its normal position down to the pelvic floor, it can cause either urinary leakage or urinary retention.

Kegel exercises: Also known as pelvic muscle exercises, these are performed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor.  These exercises can improve the ability to maintain continence.

Mixed incontinence: Very common and occurs when symptoms of both stress and urgency incontinence are present. Symptoms of one type may be more pronounced than the other.

Neurogenic bladder: Loss of bladder control caused by damage to the nerves controlling the bladder.

Overactive bladder: A condition in which the patient experiences at least two of the following conditions: urinary urgency, urge incontinence or urinary frequency. (Urinary frequency is defined as urinating more than seven times a day or more than twice at night.)

Pelvic floor muscles: Muscles that support the bladder.

Pessary: A specially designed device worn in the vagina to hold the bladder in its correct position and prevent leakage of urine. Pessaries come in many shapes and sizes.

Sphincter: A ring-like band of muscle fibers that closes a natural opening. Tightening the urethral sphincter controls the urge to urinate, as well as prevent loss of urine. Both the anus and the urethra have sphincters, whose muscle tone is key to preventing leakage and maintaining fecal and urinary continence, respectively.

Stress incontinence: Leakage of urine caused by actions such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, running, or lifting that place pressure on the bladder from inside the body.

Ureters: Tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra: The tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Urge incontinence: Leakage as a result of sudden, urgent needs to urinate, as well as frequent urination.

Urodynamic tests: These tests measure the bladder's ability to hold and release urine, showing how your bladder acts when it is filling and emptying.

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