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Bedwetting Misunderstood but Often Treatable

Parents Often in the Dark About Why Kids Wet the Bed and What They Can Do
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WebMD Health News

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April 23, 2012 -- Researchers are getting closer to uncovering why children wet the bed and what can be done, but many parents are still in the dark.

A new report highlights misconceptions about bedwetting as well as progress in finding out the cause behind the often-embarrassing and traumatic childhood condition, but the report also lists what may be the best help for bedwetting (Hint: Don't be alarmed).

"The mechanisms behind bedwetting are beginning to be questioned," says researcher Darcie Kiddoo, MD, associate professor of pediatric urology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. "It is not as straightforward as people once thought."

Kiddoo says the biggest myth about bedwetting among parents is that it is something children can control.

"Kids are not able to control it," Kiddoo tells WebMD. "There is something else going on. We want to make sure we're not making children feel bad or looking at reward mechanisms to try and treat it."

The report shows bedwetting is common among children, affecting about 6% of boys and 3% of girls in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 11.

Why Kids Wet the Bed

Kiddoo says bedwetting becomes an issue that needs to be discussed with a health care provider when it begins to affect a child's life, regardless of age. For example, when it is causing anxiety or forcing them to miss out on activities like sleepovers that are important to them.

The first step in determining the cause of bedwetting, researchers say, is to look at what is going on with the child during the day.

Children who wet the bed because they have overactive bladders will usually have daytime symptoms like urgency, frequency, and incontinence. Bladder dysfunction can be caused by hormonal imbalances and may sometimes require medical treatment. However the majority of bedwetters do not need medication.

Another cause may be a sleep disorder that is making it harder for them to wake up in response to bladder sensations.

Gender and genetics also play a role in bedwetting. A recent U.S. study showed boys are more than twice as likely as girls to wet the bed. Another showed the odds of children wetting the bed were more than 3.5 times higher if their mother also wet the bed.

Finally, stress and major life events like a new baby in the house, a recent move, or the loss of a loved one have been linked to temporary bedwetting, especially in children who were previously dry during the night. For most bedwetters, though, there are no major life events preceding the issue.

Hidden Cause of Bedwetting

A physical exam, including checking for constipation, is often the next step in determining the cause of bedwetting.

Pediatric urologist Steve J. Hodges, MD, of Wake Forest University says constipation is one of the most common causes of bedwetting in children, but it is often overlooked or misunderstood.

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