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Sleep Disorders

Bedwetting In Adulthood

09/25/2008

Question:

I am a 37 year old woman. I have "wet the bed" my whole life. My parents tried different treatments when I was a child, but when the doctor could not give them a medical cause, they decided it was for attention. Unfortunately this is not true. If it were I would have made the choice to stop believe me. My son has told me recently he has this issue as well. He is 17. I honestly did not know. I am writing because I have read some information on the internet, but most of the information refers to children or new occurrences in adults. Is there treatment for my situation, and if so, can it also help my son?

Answer:

Bed wetting during sleep, also known as sleep enuresis, often has a variety of underlying causes. Sleep enuresis is quite common in children but begins to decrease in frequency once above the age of 5. Only about 1-2% of 18 year olds will have this problem and it becomes even less frequent in adulthood until urinary incontinence becomes a problem with aging (mostly in the elderly, over 65 year old, population).

Most cases of sleep enuresis in adulthood are due to other underlying medical problems and do not represent a problem with the urinary system per se, though urinary tract disorders can also lead to enuresis. These conditions include obstructive sleep apnea (repetitive airway closing in sleep), congestive heart failure, diabetes, urinary tract infections, nighttime seizures, depression, severe psychological stress, and dementia. Of course, excessive intake of fluids or substances that promote urination (i.e. diuretic medications, caffeine, and alcohol) can also lead to nighttime bedwetting.

In your case, if you have had problems since childhood, then this may suggest some anatomic problem with your urinary tract system. The fact that your son has this as well could also suggest an anatomic problem that may be inherited, though its also possible that your son's problems may be completely unrelated to yours. Additional evaluation will be needed to help determine what the underlying problem is in both your cases.

In order to clarify the situation and get help, I recommend you discuss this issue with your Primary Care Physician. Specific factors in your history will be useful in determining how best to further evaluate and treat this problem. Referral to a Urologist may be needed. Evaluation by a Sleep Specialist in your area might also be considered if there is concern for an underlying sleep disorder. Your son should also discuss his problem with his Pediatrician, as this should not be a problem he should be expected to live with.

If you would like further information about sleep disorders or sleep itself, I recommend the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. In addition to information about sleep medicine, the website also contains a list of accredited Sleep Centers and may help you to locate one nearest you, if needed. The website sleepeducation.com also can provide consumer-friendly information about sleep disorders.

Good Luck!

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University