Davina Richardson, RGN/RSCN Specialist Children’s Nurse at Bladder & Bowel UK, reminds us that toileting problems don’t just affect children and the elderly. She explains the different continence issues teenagers may experience, gives tips to try at home and where to get more support.
Many bodily functions are considered private and not for discussion. Top of the list of the ‘not to be talked’ about is toileting! Many people think that once a child has been toilet trained, their bladders and bowels will work for the rest of their lives. If they do have problems in the future, these will not occur until old age. This myth is able to continue because so many of us are too embarrassed to discuss problems, even with the people we are closest to. So those young people who do have a problem often don’t ask for help.
Problems that teenagers may have with their bladder and bowels include:
Many teenagers have more than one bladder or bowel problem. For example, those who wet the bed may also have frequency, urgency and daytime wetting and may be constipated.
This helps by making sure that pee remains weak (pale in colour). Strong wee (dark in colour) is more likely to irritate the lining of your bladder, which makes wetting worse. Being well hydrated helps to prevent constipation, which can cause problems with the bladder as well as the bowel. Drinking well also helps to prevent urinary tract infections (UTI)
If you are having problems with your bladder or bowel, you should be able to get a medical pass to allow you out of lessons, so that you can go to the toilet as soon as you need to. Most schools will provide a pass if they are aware of the problem. You could ask your pastoral leader (e.g. head of house or head of year) or ask your parent or carer to speak to them. You could ask your school nurse to arrange the pass for you.
You should be allowed to have a water bottle with you in school, so that you can drink regularly. If this is not allowed speak to your school nurse or talk to your school council. If you are worried about the state of your school toilets, you and your friends could raise this as an issue with the school council.
Some teenagers have toileting issues because of a medical condition they have been born with, or that has developed later, due to injury or illness. They may need to use catheters or medicines or to have special bowel management programmes. If this applies to you, then do follow the advice you have been given and if you are worried or struggling let your doctor or nurse know.
Life for teenagers is difficult. There is a natural need to be or feel the same as everyone else. If you had experienced ‘leaks’ when you were younger and were told off for this, because the adults looking after you thought you were being lazy or naughty, then you may be particularly worried about asking for help. You should try not to be concerned about asking for help as there is a better understanding of the causes of these problems now.
At Bladder & Bowel UK we know that having a problem with your bladder and/or bowel (continence problems), causes distress to young people. Feeling the need to hide such problems makes young people feel different and cut off from friends and social groups. Continence problems, if discovered, might result in teasing or bullying. They impact on self-esteem. They reduce opportunities for those affected, such as avoiding school trips and sleepovers. In extreme cases they can cause symptoms of depression.
Treating bladder and bowel problems may be straightforward, but for some people treatment takes time and effort for improvement. However, most can be treated. So, if you or someone you know is affected do ask for help. School nurses run drop-in clinics in most secondary schools. Your school reception should be able to tell you when the nurse is going to be in school. You do not need to tell them why you want to see the nurse.
You can tell your parent or carer and ask them to make you an appointment to see your GP. If you are over 16 years old, you can register with a GP and make an appointment on your own.
Bladder & Bowel UK also provide a confidential helpline service at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on telephone 0161 607 8219
Date of preparation: November 2019