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Urinary Problems

Urinary problems of any sort can cause a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment. One of the most common is urinary tract infection, which can cause general discomfort as well as unusually frequent and painful urination. Incontinence, or involuntary loss of urine, is also common among women and can occur for a number of reasons.

Common symptoms of urinary problems are:

  • Painful or burning sensation during urination
  • Urge to urinate frequently (frequency)
  • Urgent need to urinate (urgency)
  • Feeling unable to completely empty the bladder (retention)
  • Involuntary urine loss (incontinence)
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)

Causes

Infections
Urinary tract infections arise when bacteria, usually Escherichia coli (E. coli) from the digestive tract, gather at the opening of the urethra, multiply and spread. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may also cause urinary tract infections.

Frequency
Urinary frequency may be a symptom of a urinary tract infection or of irritation, infection or cancer of the bladder. It may also be caused by pregnancy, diabetes, some medications or by radiation therapy.

Urgent urination
Urgent urination can be caused by a blockage in the urinary system, by an infection of the urinary tract or bladder or other bladder conditions. It may also be caused by intake of caffeine, alcohol and some artificial sweeteners.

Urinary retention
There are many possible causes for urinary retention, including blockages or narrowing of the urethra. Problems with the nerves or muscles of the bladder may also cause urine to be retained.

Incontinence
Urinary incontinence may occur as a result of a urinary tract infection, diabetes, weak pelvic muscles or the physical changes that take place with pregnancy or menopause.

Blood in urine
Blood may sometimes be seen in the urine. However, it is important to have it checked out for serious causes, including trauma, infection or obstruction of the urinary tract, kidney stones or cancer.

Diagnosis
Analysis of a urine sample is an important diagnostic tool, revealing blood or bacteria that may indicate an infection, excess glucose that may be symptomatic of diabetes or high protein levels that can signify disease of the kidneys, heart or blood. You will also be asked questions about your symptoms.

Depending upon your symptoms, your doctor may perform a general physical examination, discuss your medical history and possibly explore your family history for genetic factors. In some cases, you could be asked to keep a record of your urination patterns for a time. If urine retention is an issue, your doctor may insert a tiny flexible tube (catheter) into your urethra through which the urine may be released. Additional lab tests may also be required, based on the results of your medical exam.

Treatment

Treatment of urinary problems depends upon the underlying cause of your symptoms. Antibiotics are usually the initial treatment for urinary tract infection. Retained urine may be released by a catheter inserted into the urethra. Medication may also be used to reduce obstruction and promote urination.

Urgency and incontinence may require medication or even surgery in some cases, but can often be treated with diet modification and changes in fluid intake. Behavioral changes may be used to retrain the bladder, and Kegel exercises can be added to strengthen the muscles that hold in urine.

FAQ

What are some of the risk factors for urinary problems?
Changes in the urinary system can occur with age, illness or injury. Any of these may cause kidney function to decline, and muscles in the pelvis, bladder, urethra and sphincter to weaken.

What steps can I take to keep my urinary system healthy?

  • Avoid foods or liquids such as caffeine or alcohol that can irritate your bladder
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level
  • Use Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles
  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a moderate level of physical activity

When should I talk to my doctor about urinary problems?
In addition to their effect on your comfort, many urinary problems can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Therefore, it’s wise to see your doctor as soon as possible.