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Patient education: Bedwetting in children (Beyond the Basics)

Patient education: Bedwetting in children (Beyond the Basics)
Authors:
Jan E Drutz, MD
Naiwen D Tu, MD
Section Editors:
Teresa K Duryea, MD
Laurence S Baskin, MD, FAAP
Robert G Voigt, MD, FAAP
Deputy Editor:
Mary M Torchia, MD
Literature review current through: Feb 2022. | This topic last updated: Dec 01, 2021.

BEDWETTING OVERVIEW — Bedwetting (also called nighttime or nocturnal enuresis) is a common childhood problem. Children learn to control daytime urination as they become aware of their bladder filling. Once this occurs, they learn to consciously control and coordinate their bladder. This generally occurs by four years of age. Nighttime bladder control usually takes longer and is not expected until a child is between five and seven years old. (See "Patient education: Toilet training (Beyond the Basics)".)

The number of children with bedwetting varies by age; at five years of age, 16 percent of children have some difficulty staying dry at night. By 15 years of age, only 1 to 2 percent continue to wet the bed. Males are twice as likely as females to wet the bed.

For most children, bedwetting resolves on its own without treatment. However, caregivers and children may worry about bedwetting since it is embarrassing and inconvenient. Some caregivers may also worry about underlying medical problems.

BEDWETTING CAUSES — Bedwetting may be related to one or more of the following:

The child's bladder is maturing more slowly than usual

The child's bladder holds a smaller-than-normal amount of urine

Genetics – Parents who had enuresis as children are more likely to have children with enuresis

Diminished levels of vasopressin (a hormone that reduces urine production)

Deep sleep that prevents a child from sensing bladder fullness (this theory is controversial)

Physical or emotional problems rarely cause bedwetting. Most children with bedwetting do not have an underlying medical problem. Medical problems that may contribute to bedwetting include diabetes, urinary tract infection, fecal soiling (encopresis), pin worms, kidney failure, seizures, and sleep problems (such as sleep apnea). Most of these conditions can be diagnosed easily.

Constipation, a common problem in children, can also cause bedwetting. If your child's bowel movements are infrequent, you should mention this to your child's health care provider. (See "Patient education: Constipation in infants and children (Beyond the Basics)".)

BEDWETTING DIAGNOSIS — The age at which enuresis is considered a "problem" depends on when the child develops bladder control and the perspective of the caregivers:

A caregiver who had enuresis as a child may not be concerned about their six-year-old with enuresis.

Caregivers of a four-year-old with enuresis may worry because their older child was dry at age three.

For most children, enuresis is a problem when it interferes with their ability to socialize with friends. However, it is understandable for caregivers to want reassurance that their child's bedwetting is not caused by an underlying medical problem.

History — Important points for you to mention when discussing bedwetting with a health care provider include:

Problems with daytime accidents

Periods of dryness

Family history of bedwetting

Frequency of wetting episodes

Whether your child snores

The impact of the problem on the child and family

What treatments have been tried

Unstable-family issues

It is also useful to record a 24-hour diary of how much the child drinks and how much urine they pass. This includes recording the time and amount of fluids your child drinks, as well as the number of times the child urinates, including the amount urinated, if possible (figure 1).

Urinalysis — Urinalysis is a screening test for underlying medical problems. It requires testing a small sample of a child's urine. Urinalysis can usually be done in the clinician's office.

Further testing and referral — Most children who have bedwetting do not need further testing or referral. However, a child who has daytime bladder problems or abnormal findings on urinalysis or physical examination may need further testing.

BEDWETTING TREATMENT — Initial treatment of bedwetting includes education and motivational therapy. Behavioral alarms or medication may be tried if enuresis does not improve with these interventions.

Before beginning treatment, it is important to consider how ready and able your child is to participate in the process. Both you and your child must be motivated. If your child is not mature enough to assume some responsibility for treatment, they should not be forced to do so.

Treatment is often prolonged and may involve cycles of success and failure. Treatment should include consistent follow-up with a clinician (approximately every four months).

Caregivers must understand that bedwetting is completely involuntary and that a child should never be punished for wetting episodes. Spanking and verbal scolding do not improve a child's ability to stay dry.

When to seek help — You should speak with your child's health care provider if your child has difficulty with needing to urinate frequently or urgently, extreme thirst during the day, burning with urination, swelling in the feet or ankles, or a new problem with bedwetting after weeks or months of being dry. These may be signs of a more serious condition that should be evaluated before any enuresis treatment is attempted.

If your child does not have the above problems, you may seek medical advice at any time, or you may try following the general advice or motivational therapy techniques described below. Motivational therapy techniques are best suited to younger children with enuresis. Most clinicians do not suggest alarm devices or medications until a child is at least six years old.

Bedwetting education and advice

Bedwetting is common; it occurs at least once per week in 15 percent of five year olds.

Bedwetting goes away on its own in most children.

Bedwetting is not the child's fault; children should not be punished for bedwetting.

Encourage the child to urinate regularly during the day and just before going to bed (a total of four to seven times). If the child wakes at night, take them to the toilet.

Avoid sugary and caffeine-containing drinks, especially in the evening.

It may be helpful to have the child drink most of their fluids in the morning and early afternoon to prevent overfilling of the bladder during the night. Before trying this, keep a diary of the amount of fluids your child drinks in a 24-hour period (figure 1). Based on the total, you can create a schedule to spread fluids through the morning, afternoon, and evening. One recommendation is to offer 40 percent of fluids in the morning, 40 percent in the afternoon, and only 20 percent in the evening. For example, if a child generally consumes 32 ounces (approximately 1 liter) in 24 hours, the caregiver should offer 13 ounces (approximately 400 milliliters) – approximately 40 percent – in the morning, 13 ounces (approximately 400 milliliters) in the afternoon, and 6 ounces (approximately 200 milliliters) – approximately 20 percent – in the evening. This strategy should only be continued if it helps the child stay dry.

Remind the child every night to get out of bed and use the toilet when they need to urinate. Also remind the child to empty their bladder immediately before bedtime.

Help the child locate the toilet easily by using night lights in the bathroom and hallway. Consider placing a portable potty seat in the child's room if the toilet is far from the child's bedroom.

Stop using diapers, training pants, or pull-up pants at home since these may prevent a child from wanting to get out of bed, especially if the child is older than eight years. They may be used for special occasions, such as overnight visits with family or friends.

Protect the child's mattress with a waterproof sheet to avoid urine odor.

After wetting accidents during the night, encourage the child to go to the bathroom before changing into dry pajamas. You can place a dry towel over the wet part of the bed, or you can make the bed in several layers, alternating a fitted sheet with a waterproof pad; this allows you and/or the child to quickly and easily remove the wet items and avoids the need to re-make the bed. Leave dry pajamas and towels out so that a child can find them easily.

Ask the child to help with morning bed clean-up, including removing and washing bed sheets. Also ensure that the child showers or bathes daily to avoid urine odor on the skin.

Do not tease or allow siblings to tease a child who has wet the bed.

Behavior therapy for bedwetting

Motivational therapy — Motivational therapy involves keeping a record of progress, with bigger rewards for longer periods of dryness. You and the child should agree about the reward in advance and might progress from a sticker on a calendar for each dry night to a favorite book for seven consecutive dry nights.

Motivational therapy is a good method to try first for younger children.

Bedwetting alarms — Enuresis alarms are the most effective method for controlling bedwetting. They are typically reserved for children older than six years of age. Alarms are not generally used first since they are moderately priced and require the child and caregiver to be highly motivated. You may consider trying alarm therapy after three to six months of other behavioral training techniques, before treatment with medication.

Alarms work by using a sensor that detects the first drops of urine in the underwear. When the sensor is activated, it sends a signal to an alarm device, which is intended to wake the child with a sound, light, or vibration. A table of available alarms is provided here (table 1). The alarm helps to train the child to wake up or stop urinating before the alarm goes off.

Children should be in charge of their alarm and should test it every night before sleeping. With the sound or vibration in mind, the child should imagine the sequence of events that will occur if the alarm goes off [1]:

The child turns off the alarm, gets up, and finishes urinating in the toilet

The child returns to the bedroom, changes their bedding and clothing (with a caregiver's help if needed)

The child wipes down or replaces the sensor

The child resets the alarm and returns to sleep

Keep a diary of wet and dry nights. Give positive reinforcement for dry nights and for successful use of the alarm sequence.

As alarm therapy begins, some children will not awaken when the alarm goes off. You should wake the child initially, although most children will eventually learn to awaken on their own. It is critical for success of alarm therapy that the child is awake and conscious during the process of going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and not "sleepwalking" through the experience. Use the alarm continuously until the child has three to four weeks of consecutively dry nights. This usually takes three to four months but can range between five weeks and six months. The alarm sequence can be restarted if bedwetting recurs.

Desmopressin — Desmopressin, also known as DDAVP, is a medication that decreases urine production. It is used to treat bedwetting in children. In most cases, motivational therapy and/or bedwetting alarms are tried for three to six months before desmopressin is considered. Desmopressin can be expensive, have side effects, and have a higher relapse rate than an alarm. Desmopressin and behavioral therapies can be used together.

Desmopressin is available as a pill and is taken at bedtime to reduce the amount of urine made during sleep. It can be used on a nightly basis or for brief periods (eg, overnight camps or sleepovers).

Serious side effects with desmopressin are uncommon but can occur if the child drinks too much fluid before bedtime. For this reason, children should not drink more than 6.75 ounces (200 milliliters) of fluid after 5 PM on nights when desmopressin will be used. The child should not drink any fluid beginning one hour before and eight hours after taking desmopressin.

Relapse rates are relatively high with desmopressin; approximately 60 to 70 percent of children have a return of nocturnal enuresis after stopping the medication. Gradually decreasing the daily dose, rather than stopping the medication abruptly, may decrease the rate of relapse.

Complementary and alternative therapies — Several complementary and alternative therapies have been tried in children with nocturnal enuresis, including acupuncture, chiropractic maneuvers, and hypnosis. However, there are not enough data from scientific studies to know if these therapies are effective. Complementary and alternative treatments are not recommended for children with bedwetting.

WHERE TO GET MORE INFORMATION — Your child's health care provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your child's medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our website (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients and caregivers, as well as selected articles written for health care professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

Patient education: Bedwetting in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Daytime wetting in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Night terrors, confusional arousals, and nightmares in children (The Basics)

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Patient education: Constipation in infants and children (Beyond the Basics)

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Nocturnal enuresis in children: Etiology and evaluation
Nocturnal enuresis in children: Management
Toilet training

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

(https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems-bedwetting-children)

National Kidney Foundation

(www.kidney.org/patients/bw/BWparents.cfm)

American Academy of Pediatrics

(www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/toilet-training/Pages/default.aspx)

KidsHealth

(http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sleep/enuresis.html)

[1-7]

This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms ©2022 UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
Topic 1199 Version 18.0

References

1 : Schmitt BD.. Bed-Wetting (Enuresis). In: Instructions for Pediatric Patients, Saunders, 1999. p.209.

2 : Simple behavioural interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children.

3 : Alarm interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children.

4 : Desmopressin for nocturnal enuresis in children.

5 : Complementary and miscellaneous interventions for nocturnal enuresis in children.

6 : Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Alarm versus Desmopressin Therapy for Pediatric Monosymptomatic Enuresis.

7 : The impact of bowel and bladder problems on children's quality of life and their parents: A scoping review.