This refers to an escape of urine from the bladder uncontrolled by the will. It naturally occurs in infants under thirty months, or thereabouts, and in the very old, and in connection with various diseases. It may be due to disease of the brain, as in idiocy or insanity, apoplexy, or unconscious states. Injuries or disorders of the spinal cord, which controls the action of the bladder (subject to the brain), also cause incontinence. Local disorders of the urinary organs are more frequent causes of the trouble, as inflammation of any part of the urinary tract, diabetes, nephritis, stone in the bladder, tumors, and malformations. The involuntary passage of urine may arise from irritability of bladder the most frequent cause or from weakness of the muscles which restrain the escape of urine, or from obstruction to flow of urine from the bladder, with overflow when it becomes distended.
It is a very common disorder of children and young persons, and in some cases no cause can be found; but in many instances it is due to masturbation, to a narrow foreskin and small aperture at the exit of the urinary passage, to worms in the bowels or disease of the lower end of the bowels, such as fissure or eczema, to digestive disorders, to retaining the urine overlong, to fright, to dream impressions (dreaming of the act of urination), and to great weakness brought on by fevers or other diseases. In old men it is often due to an enlargement of a gland at the neck of the bladder which prevents the bladder from closing properly. A concentrated and irritating urine, from excessive acidity or alkalinity, may induce incontinence.
Children may recover from it as they approach adult life, but they should not be punished, as it is a disease and not a fault. Exception should be made in case children wet their clothing during play, through failure to take the time and trouble to pass water naturally. It is more common among children at night, leading to wetting of the bed, but may occur in the day, and often improves in the spring and summer, only to return with the cold weather. Children who sleep very soundly are more apt to be subject to this disorder.
Treatment. In the case of a disorder depending upon one of so many conditions it will be realized that it would be folly for the layman to attempt to treat it. Children who are weak need building up in every possible way, as by an outdoor life, cold sponging daily, etc. If there is in boys a long foreskin, or tight foreskin, hindering the escape of urine and natural secretions of this part, circumcision may be performed to advantage by the surgeon, even in the infant a few months old. Sometimes a simpler operation, consisting of stretching or overdistending the foreskin, can be done.
A somewhat corresponding condition in girls occasionally causes bed wetting and other troubles. It can be discovered by a physician. Children who wet their beds, or clothes, should not drink liquid after five in the afternoon, and should be taken up frequently during the night to pass water. The bed covering must be light, and they should be prevented from lying on the back while asleep by wearing a towel knotted in the small part of the back. Elevation of the foot of the bed a few inches is recommended as having a corrective influence. Masturbation, if present, must be corrected.
It is a very difficult disorder to treat, and physicians must be excused for failures even after every attempt has been made to discover and remove the cause. Even when cure seems assured, the disorder may recur.