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Bedwetting: What Causes It?

It's a myth that laziness causes bedwetting. Millions of kids wet the bed -- but why? And how can you help

Bedwetting: When Is It Worth Worrying?

Bedwetting that's caused by medical problems is genuinely rare -- 3% of cases or less, according to Bennett. Urinary tract infections, sleep apnea, diabetes, spinal cord problems, and deformities of the bladder or urinary tract -- all are worth mentioning, but probably not worrying over.

Medical causes of bedwetting are nearly always uncovered by simply talking to a child and her parents, performing an exam, and testing the urine, says Bennett.

"The vast majority of kids who are wet at night have nothing medically wrong with them," he emphasizes.

Children who have gained nighttime bladder control, then "relapsed" into bedwetting, are slightly more likely to have medical causes. Psychological stress (such as divorce or the birth of a new sibling) is an even more common cause, though.

Pediatricians don't diagnose primary nocturnal enuresis (the medical term for bedwetting) until age 6. It's an arbitrary cutoff -- after all, 12% of children wet the bed at that age. "It's really only a problem when either the child or the parents start to think so," says Bennett.

Bedwetting Treatment: Becoming 'Boss of Your Body'

The potential harm of bedwetting is more often psychological than medical. "After age 6, many children start to have sleepovers, and that's when bed-wetting can be particularly embarrassing and stressful," says Bennett.

"It's just as important to know what doesn't cause bedwetting -- the myths around it," says Bennett. "No child wets the bed on purpose, or from being too lazy to get up to pee."

Dragging themselves out of bed to change wet sheets on yet another night, parents frequently become frustrated. "Intentionally or unintentionally, parents express disapproval that this is happening," says Bennett. "It's understandable, but it makes the situation worse."

Addressing the problem positively can avoid lasting problems, and numerous strategies can help children cope with and improve bedwetting. Some bed-wetting treatments include:

  • Encouraging a child to pee before bedtime.
  • Restricting a child's fluid intake before bed.
  • Covering the mattress with plastic.
  • Bed-wetting alarms. These alarms sense urine and wake a child so they can use the toilet.
  • Bladder stretching exercises that may increase how much urine the bladder can hold.
  • Medications.

Because bedwetting gets better on its own, "in the past, doctors often said to parents and kids, 'Don't worry about it,'" says Bennett. "But if it's causing anxiety or social problems, it's important to know there are things families can do to make the situation better."

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Reviewed on February 25, 2012

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