How to Simplify Managing PTSD & Incontinence

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is generally associated with nervousness, anxiety, and even nightmares. It is also common for episodes of PTSD to cause sweating or trouble breathing, but what most people don’t realize is that PTSD can cause urinary accidents. Occasional episodes of urinary incontinence are actually quite common in individuals with PTSD, and it is important to have the right tools to manage these episodes. 

PTSD & Incontinence

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event that the individual was either involved in or witnessed. Oftentimes, the individual has difficulty recovering after the terrifying experience and can feel stressed or frightened even when they’re not in immediate danger.

As with incontinence, the severity and type of PTSD may vary due to a variety of contributing factors. A person may have short term (acute) PTSD that lasts for six months, or an individual may develop ongoing (chronic) PTSD that lasts for years.

PTSD symptoms generally include re-experiencing symptoms through flashbacks or nightmares, avoiding reminders of the event (such as riding in a car after a car accident), experiencing angry outbursts or insomnia, feeling on edge and guilty, having issues recalling events surrounding the incident, and more. Nocturnal enuresis, or nighttime bedwetting, and urinary incontinence are also symptoms, especially in children, even if they’ve already been potty trained.

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How Does PTSD Contribute to Incontinence?

The experience of reliving a trauma, and the anxiety this can put on the body, can activate the sympathetic nervous system, or a fight or flight response, in an individual. As adrenaline fills the body, nerves in the body are triggered, making it easier to react to stimuli. During this process, as the heart rate goes up, more blood flows through the body. In turn, due to more blood flowing through the body, this causes kidneys to filter more blood, resulting in an increase in urine production which causes the bladder to fill faster. Therefore, the bladder muscles tense up and contract. This can increase the amount of pressure on the bladder and signal the release of urine, causing an accident.

This sudden, unexpected urge to urinate can cause individuals to not be able to make it to the restroom in time. This is commonly referred to as urge incontinence, and this can occur during the day or at night while sleeping.

Caring for Someone with PTSD & Incontinence

There are a variety of PTSD treatments available, but it is important to also ensure that the individual’s incontinence symptoms are also treated. While the individual’s incontinence may be caused by their PTSD, incontinence can also be a symptom of a bladder condition or a urinary tract infection (UTI). A visit to the individual’s healthcare provider can be beneficial in the treatment or management of incontinence.

It is important to remember that incontinence can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment, and this anxiety can exacerbate symptoms further. It can be a good option to have your loved one meet with a therapist to have their symptoms evaluated, as well. Talk therapy can help identify triggers that may be causing the incontinence to occur along with cognitive behavioral therapy treatments to improve PTSD symptoms. Local support groups are another way for individuals with PTSD to talk through their PTSD symptoms.

Relaxation methods, such as deep breathing, are incredibly beneficial if an individual finds themselves struggling with an incontinence episode. It can be difficult to calm oneself during a stressful moment. However, we recommend practicing relaxation techniques before an episode occurs to help deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, restoring the body in a rest or digest state. This can also be a great technique for calming PTSD episodes, as well, especially in children. 

Whether your loved one needs bladder control pads, underpads (chux), or protective underwear, Aeroflow Urology can assist with receiving incontinence products through your insurance. This can help to relieve some of the financial stress of incontinence, as well as make accidents easier to manage. Once you find the right incontinence products for your needs, returning to your normal routine can be more achievable. This can also alleviate stress, as well as give confidence to the individual in knowing that they are protected and covered if an accident occurs. 

About the Author

Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF is a Medical Advisor to Aeroflow Urology and a board-certified physician assistant specializing in sexual medicine, women’s health, and urology. In 2019, she opened up her own private practice, the Fosnight Center for Sexual Health, and implemented the sexual health grand rounds curriculum at her local hospital and residency program.

Aleece is also the founder of the Fosnight Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of professionals in the sexual health field and providing funding for access to healthcare services in her local community.

Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.