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 2 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
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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:
- Kidney or bladder infections
- Kidney disease
- Diabetes insipidus —a rare disorder in which sugar is normal but excess water is excreted by the kidney
- Congenital bladder, kidney, or neurological abnormality
- A sleep disorder, sometimes related to enlarged tonsils or adenoids
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.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
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 your child:
- Wets his or her pants in the daytime
- Has pain during urination
- Has to go to the bathroom often
- Has blood in the urine
- Has fever or chills
You will be asked about your child's 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
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with a urine test.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with:
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 6.
If bed-wetting is caused by an infection or physical abnormality, a treatment plan will be created for that issue. Since this is uncommon, most children may be treated with one or more of these ways:
Motivation and Family Support
Bed-wetting is rarely an intentional act. Children are usually upset and ashamed when it happens. Do not punish the child. It is 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 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 PM in the evening. Have the child urinate before going to bed. Sugar and caffeine should also be avoided after late afternoon.
A conditioning device may be recommended. One example is a pad with a buzzer that sounds when wet. The pad is worn in the child's underwear. The alarm will wake the child up to 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, a scheduled is followed where the child is woken up during the night to 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 daytime wetting and urinary tract infections.
Medication is rarely given. However, it may be used for short-term situations like a sleepover or vacation. Some medications include:
- A hormone that decreases the amount of urine that is made
- An antidepressant that lightens the level of sleep and may also decrease how often the child urinates
- A medication to reduce bladder overactivity and frequency of nighttime wetting
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Enuresis; Primary Nocturnal Enuresis; PNE)
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.aacap.org
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.healthychildren.org
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca
Alberta Health and Wellness http://www.health.alberta.ca
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