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Incontinence Due to Hospitalization

By Oren Traub, MD, PhD, Departments of Internal Medicine and Adult Hospital Medicine, Pacific Medical Centers

In the hospital, people may involuntarily leak urine (urinary incontinence) or pass stool (fecal incontinence). In these cases, incontinence may result from the environment rather than from people’s physical condition (see Problems Due to Hospitalization).

The following may make incontinence more likely:

  • Being restricted to bed rest

  • Being given diuretics, which cause the bladder to fill quickly with urine

  • Having trouble getting out of bed because the bed is too high or because people are weak or ill

  • Having a disorder or having had surgery that makes walking difficult or painful

  • Having equipment, such as IV or oxygen lines, heart monitors, and catheters, in the way

  • Having a bladder or intestinal infection

Thus, getting to a toilet becomes complicated and may take more time and planning than usual.

One alternative—bedpans—may be hard to use or uncomfortable. Help may be needed to use the bedpan or to get to a toilet. People who have dementia, who suddenly become confused, or who have had a stroke may be unable to use a call bell to request help. After the call bell is pushed, help may be delayed. Such delays may result in incontinence.

Also, some drugs and disorders can make incontinence more likely to develop.

Prevention of Incontinence in the Hospital

Staff members can set up regular times to help people go to the toilet. Placing a toilet chair (commode) by the bed is sometimes useful. Lowering a bed or rearranging medical equipment may help. Having access to a urinal is helpful for men. Making sure people are familiar with the path from bed to toilet and making the toilet easy to identify may also help prevent incontinence.