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A bit hesitant to broach the subject of incontinence with your doctor? It's not uncommon. Many women are uncomfortable talking about such a personal topic. That feeling of uncertainty can be compounded by all the unfamiliar terms that come with the subject. It can seem like another language entirely!

This glossary of commonly used terms can help you understand what you read and hear about bladder control issues. By learning what it all means, you can more confidently talk to your healthcare provider and become a better advocate for yourself.

Print out this simple alphabetical dictionary and use it as a reference, or view it online again whenever you come across a word you don't know. While it certainly isn't a comprehensive list of incontinence terms, it is a good foundation and a great way to boost your personal medical knowledge.

Your Incontinence Glossary

Absorbent Products – Disposable or reusable pads and garments you wear to contain urine or bowel leaks.

Biofeedback – A therapy that uses measuring devices or sensors to help you learn to identify and control the muscles around the bladder opening. Biofeedback is often used in combination with Kegels (see below) and/or electrical stimulation to relieve stress and urge incontinence.

Bladder – The organ that stores urine produced by the kidneys.

Bladder Retraining – A technique that helps you gradually increase the amount of time between urinations by resisting the first urge to go and waiting until a scheduled time. The length of time between trips to the bathroom is increased until the urge can be held off for several hours.

Catheter – A thin, flexible tube inserted into the bladder to expel urine.

Functional Incontinence – Occurs in older people who have normal bladder control, but experience problems getting to the toilet in time because of arthritis or other disorders that make it hard to move quickly.

Kegels – Exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. Developed by Dr. Arnold Kegel, they have been shown to improve mild to moderate urge and stress incontinence.

Kidneys – Two bean-shaped organs that remove waste from the blood and send it to the bladder in the form of urine.

Mixed Incontinence – Incontinence that results when symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence are present.

Nocturnal Enuresis – The medical term for bedwetting, which is the involuntary release of urine at night.

Overactive Bladder (OAB) – The National Association for Continence (NAFC) defines OAB as the recurrent symptoms of urgency and frequency of urination potentially resulting in involuntary urine loss prior to reaching a toilet.

Overflow Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs due to weak bladder muscles or blockage, causing the bladder to become full with no urge to use the bathroom.

Pelvic Muscle Exercises (PMEs) – Exercises that help strengthen the pelvic floor by contracting the pelvic floor muscles. Kegels are an example of PMEs, and can be helpful in improving incontinence symptoms.

Sphincter Muscle – A circular muscle. It is one of the sphincter muscles, sphincter urethrae, that binds like a rubber band, controlling urine leaks.

Stress Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs when pelvic muscles have been damaged or weakened, causing the bladder to leak during any activity that puts pressure on the bladder, such as exercise, coughing, sneezing or laughing.

Timed Voiding – A method of managing incontinence that establishes a schedule for urinating determined by individual habits, not how long one can wait before having to use the bathroom.

Urge Incontinence – A type of incontinence that occurs when the bladder contracts unexpectedly by itself, often leaving you unable to make it to the restroom in time (also known as Overactive Bladder, or OAB, according to the National Association for Continence).

Ureters – Tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra – A narrow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Urinalysis – A test of the urine that measures several different elements (such as protein, color, odor and clarity) in order to help find the cause of various symptoms.

Urinary Incontinence – The involuntary loss of urine.

Urinary Tract – A system in the body (made up of the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra) that collects, stores and expels liquid waste.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – An infection of the kidneys, bladder, ureters or urethra caused by bacteria. The most common urinary tract infections are cystitis (bladder) and pyelonephritis (kidney).

Urine – Liquid that is 95 percent water and 5 percent waste, which is removed from the blood by the kidneys.

Urologist – A surgeon specializing in both men's and women's urinary conditions.

Voiding Diary – A journal for keeping track of daily leaks and visits to the bathroom.

Learning to speak the language can bring new understanding. For more information about incontinence, visit articles and FAQs.

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