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Home » Bladder and bowel » Why some teenagers still wet the bed — and what can be done about it

Davina Richardson

Children’s Specialist Nurse, Bladder & Bowel UK

Teenagers who still wet the bed may have to deal with a lack of self-confidence and a negative impact on their social lives. Yet, this medical condition can be successfully treated.

Bedwetting, or the accidental passing of urine during sleep, is extremely common in young children — although, by the age of five, the majority should be dry throughout the night. However, it’s an issue that can persist into and through adolescence, explains Davina Richardson, Children’s Specialist Nurse at Bladder & Bowel UK, an organisation that aims to improve awareness of — and find solutions to — bladder and bowel problems.

Social stigma of teenage bedwetting

It’s estimated that between 0.5% and 3% of teenagers still wet the bed. For those who are affected, this can be highly embarrassing and psychologically devastating. “Our teenage years are extremely important,” says Davina. “It’s when we want to fit in with our peers, develop our social lives and gain more independence. But if we’re wetting the bed, the negative impact on our self-esteem can be huge.”

It can also increase anxiety in social interactions. “After all, how does a young person invite friends back to their house if they’re worried that their bedroom smells?” asks Davina. “How do they have sleepovers? How do they go on school trips? Teenagers who wet the bed have talked about the burden of ‘carrying a secret’ and how they feel different and isolated because of it.”

When is bedwetting a medical condition?

If bedwetting carries on after the age of five, it’s considered to be a medical condition (although a minority of children will get better in time, without treatment). Davina stresses that parents and carers shouldn’t get angry with a young person who wets the bed because none of us can control what our bodies do when we are asleep.

“Someone who wets the bed is NOT doing so because they are ‘lazy’ and can’t be bothered to get up to go to the toilet,” she emphasises. “They are simply unable to wake up when their brain receives a message that their bladder is full and needs emptying.”

My advice is always to seek help. Because
treatment options are available to you.

Reasons why young people may be wetting the bed

There are numerous underlying reasons why a teenager may be wetting the bed. For example, their bladders may not be working as well as they should; or, if they do not produce enough of an antidiuretic hormone called vasopressin, their kidneys may be making too much urine at night.

If they are constipated, a full bowel can put pressure on the bladder, making it difficult to hold on to urine during sleep. If they have drunk large amounts of liquid before bed, it’s more likely that they will need the toilet during the night.

Stress may also be a factor. Unfortunately, bedwetting disturbs sleep cycles, which increases tiredness and makes it harder for someone to wake up when their brain tells them to. It’s a vicious circle.

Types of help and support for those affected

Help is available, says Davina. A school nurse should be able to provide initial support. A GP may be able to refer affected children and young people to a specialist nurse-led service for assessment and treatment. This could include an enuresis alarm, which can be used in some cases to wake up a child as they start to wet the bed. In time, they may become able to wake before they need the toilet or their bladder learns to hold on until the morning.

Medication may also be prescribed to reduce the amount of urine the body produces at night. In some instances, a combination of both interventions may be necessary.

Davina’s message is: if you are a teenager who is affected by bedwetting, don’t suffer in silence. See a healthcare professional. “My advice is always to seek help,” she says. “Because treatment options are available to you.”

UK-URO-2400007 May 2024

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