Bed-wetting is involuntary urination during sleep in children. Typically children become able to sleep through the night without wetting around ages 3 to 5 years.
Enuresis is bed-wetting at least twice a week. There are two types of enuresis:
- Primary nocturnal enuresis (PNE)—no periods of nighttime dryness
- Secondary nocturnal enuresis (SNE)—periods of nighttime dryness longer than 6 months followed by bed-wetting
Urinary System in Child
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Bed-wetting is common and not usually related to a medical condition.
Some factors that may contribute to bed-wetting include:
- Bladder control that develops more slowly than normal
- Greater than average urine production at night
- A tendency for deep sleep
- Overactive bladder
In rare cases, bed-wetting may be a symptom of a health condition. These conditions may cause excess urine or prevent the bladder from completely emptying. They include :
Factors that increase the chance of bed-wetting include:
- Family members with a history of bed-wetting
Significant psychosocial stressors, such as:
- Family difficulties
- Moving to a new home
- Loss of a loved one
- A new baby in the home
- Initial toilet training that was too stressful
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Chronic constipation
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
The child wakes up and finds the bed wet from urine.
Most children will have bladder control at night by about 5 years of age. Talk to your doctor if your child is about 5 years old and is still wetting the bed. Your doctor can help determine if the bed-wetting is just a normal part of your child's development or is caused by a condition that may need treatment.
Also call your doctor if you child:
- Wets their pants in the daytime
- Has pain during urination
- Has to go to the bathroom often
- Has blood in the urine
- Has fever or chills
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will ask about:
- Family history of bed-wetting
- Daytime urinary patterns
- Problems urinating, such as pain or weak stream
- Usual intake of fluids
- Type of fluids consumed
- Presence of blood in the urine
- Strained family dynamics around the issue of bed-wetting
- Child's emotional response to the behavior
- Recent psychological trauma
If needed your doctor may order tests to look for infections or structural problems:
- Urine sample—to check for infections and other problems with the urinary tract
—if physical abnormalities are suspected
If an underlying problem in the urinary tract is suspected, your child may be referred to a specialist.
Most children will stop bed-wetting by the time they reach puberty. However, bed-wetting can remain a problem for up to 1% of adults.
Most treatment aims to gradually reduce the number of bed-wettings until the child grows out of it. Treatment is rarely appropriate before age six. Bed-wetting does not interfere with social development until after age 6 years.
If your child's bed-wetting is caused by an infection or physical abnormality, your doctor will create a treatment plan for that issue. Since this is uncommon, most children may be treated with one or more of these ways:
Bed-wetting is rarely an intentional act. Children are usually upset and ashamed when it happens. Do not punish the child. It is very important that parents offer encouragement. The bed-wetting will stop with time. Do not let siblings tease the child who wets the bed.
Keep careful records of the child's progress. Offer consistent support. A very simple motivational method is the use of positive feedback, such as a star chart.
Avoid giving the child anything to drink after 6:00-7:00 in the evening. Have your child void before going to bed. Sugar and caffeine should also be avoided after late afternoon.
The doctor may recommend a conditioning device. One example is a pad with buzzer that sounds when wet. The child wears the pad in his underwear. The alarm will wake the child up so they can use the toilet. Parents may need to help the child get to the bathroom and reset the alarm.
Dry bed training is another type of therapy. With this training you follow a schedule where you wake your child up during the night so they can use the bathroom.
Some doctors suggest bladder-stretching exercises. While awake, the child gradually increases the amount of time between urinations. Do not try this method without talking to the doctor. Holding in urine can lead to day-time wetting and ocassionally urinary tract infections.
Medicine is rarely given. It may be used for short term situations like a sleepover or vacation.
Medication that may be considered include:
- Desmopressin (DDAVP)—a hormone that decreases the amount of urine that is made
- Imipramine—an antidepressant that lightens the level of sleep and may also decrease how often your child urinates
- Oxybutynin—may reduce bladder overactivity and frequency of nighttime wetting
Excess intake of fluid is rarely the cause of bed-wetting. Restricting fluids prior to bed does not help all the time. Still, it is reasonable to have all children empty their bladders prior to bed. Some parents wake their children every few hours to urinate, but most report that they rarely get much cooperation.
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Last reviewed September 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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