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When Going Gets Tough, The Tough Become Incontinent


This is the first in a 3-part series on urinary incontinence in men suffering with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Dr. Richard Roach, of Advanced Urology in Oxford, FL, discusses disease state, symptoms and treatments.

Bearing in mind the fantastic wealth of resources available on the National Association for Continence BHEALTH blog, I thought I would take the opportunity to focus on a somewhat lesser known facet of continence: the unique link between urinary retention and incontinence in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

The classic male patient with BPH often experiences both filling and emptying symptoms. These could manifest themselves in the form of frequency, urgency or weak stream, among others. Patients with BPH will often tell me they feel like they have to go all the time, but can’t seem to go when they stand at the urinal. It’s a perplexing (and frustrating) feeling.

So why am I contributing to a continence blog writing about a population of men who can’t pee? In short, these men often experience stress and overflow incontinence.

It’s counterintuitive, but when you give it some thought, it makes sense.

BPH causes the prostate to enlarge. This growth can cause narrowing of the prostatic urethra, which makes the process of urination more difficult. All the while, the bladder must work harder to overcome the resistance from the obstruction in the urethra. If left untreated, the bladder’s muscular lining will thicken, causing it to weaken and become less efficient at draining – in some cases irrevocably.

It’s usually at this juncture that symptoms become severe. Men suffer from incomplete emptying, even after using the restroom, and always have the feeling of being “full.” Their frequent trips to the restroom at night cause sleep cycle interruptions. With the bladder stretched, sneezing, laughing or coughing can cause leakage, or in more extreme cases the bladder may leak because it’s simply too full.

If they haven’t found a urologist by this point, usually we find them … recovering in the hospital from acute urinary retention. In this setting, the most immediate relief comes in the form of catheterization, either from an indwelling or intermittent catheter. Usually, the patient’s bladder health and overall physiology dictate whether a de-obstructive procedure to remove prostate tissue will provide more permanent relief.

For a smaller percentage of men, particularly those who have aversions to the risk of surgery, or more commonly, health complications that prevent a surgical de-obstructive procedure, catheterization is the only solution. Yet chronic catheterization comes with several important drawbacks, including:

  1. Losing the ability to void naturally

  2. Heightened infection risk

  3. Compromises to quality of life

In the next post on this topic, we’ll delve into these three issues in more detail, as we take a closer look at urinary catheters. Part 3 of this series will also cover the amazing story of a patient who was brought back from the brink after years of struggling with chronic catheterization for BPH symptoms. But first, let me add a few closing thoughts on the theme of BPH-induced incontinence.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get regular screenings for bladder and prostate health. Checkups like these should be likened to that of mammograms or stress tests. Furthermore, males experiencing the symptoms above should seek medical guidance from a urologist as early as possible, preferably well before incontinence becomes a focal point of symptoms.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Dr. Richard Roach attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School and completed his residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital and Clinics. After graduation, Dr. Roach moved to Minocqua, Wisconsin and joined the Marshfield…

Dr. Richard Roach attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School and completed his residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital and Clinics. After graduation, Dr. Roach moved to Minocqua, Wisconsin and joined the Marshfield Clinic, where he practiced for the next 26 years. In 2013, he moved to Florida and is currently a partner in Advanced Urology Institute. He is certified by the American Board of Urology. His specialties include plasma vaporization for BPH, treatment of female stress incontinence and penile prosthesis for ED. He is also an expert in laser & laparoscopic surgery.


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