What Causes Bed Wetting in Older Children?

Susan Grindstaff

Bed wetting in older children is usually caused by nocturnal enuresis. Normally, the bladder sends a signal to the brain that it needs to be emptied. Nocturnal enuresis describes a condition where the signal is too faint to cause the child to wake, and in severe cases, the signal may not be relayed at all. Children who have this condition are usually not aware that they need to urinate, especially while they are sleeping. This problem may persist well into their teens.

A condition called nocturnal enuresis may cause bedwetting in older children.
A condition called nocturnal enuresis may cause bedwetting in older children.

Nocturnal enuresis is the main cause of bed wetting in older children, but it is by no means the only one. In some cases, bed wetting in older children can be the result of psychological trauma. Children who have been molested, or are the victims of other types of child abuse sometimes have problems with bed wetting, regardless of their age. One clue that may help determine if the bed wetting is of a psychological nature is the onset of the problem. If bed wetting occurs in a child who has never before experienced the problem, it may indicate an underlying psychological issue.

Bed wetting in older children is rare, but not as uncommon as many people believe. It is estimated that as many as 10 % of 6-year-old children have problems with bed wetting, and as many as 3 % may still have problems at the age of 12 or older. Studies show that many parents do not consult physicians when their child is wetting the bed, because they think the child will eventually “outgrow” the tendency. In choosing to deal with it on their own, these parents could be depriving their child of medication and treatment that could help them overcome the problem.

There are drugs available to help treat nocturnal enuresis. The most common medication prescribed is called DDAVP, a drug that causes the kidneys to produce lower amounts of urine during the nighttime hours. Sometimes antidepressants are also prescribed because they tend to have the same effect on kidneys. Antidepressants are generally used only in severe cases because they can sometimes causes severe side effects.

For parents who prefer to avoid the use of drugs or medication, there are other methods available. Some common sense approaches could include changes in diet and lifestyle. Limiting the amount of fluid consumed at or near bedtime will sometimes be effective. It is also a good idea to be sure the child goes to the bathroom before going to bed. Making sure the child goes to bed with an empty bladder can go a long way toward solving the problem of bed wetting in older children.

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