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Bed-wetting is the unintentional (involuntary) discharge of urine during the night. Although most children between the ages of three and five begin to stay dry at night, the age at which children are physically and emotionally ready to maintain complete bladder control varies. Enuresis is a technical term that refers to the continued, usually involuntary, passage of urine during the night or the day after the age at which control is expected.


Most children wet the bed occasionally, and definitions of the age and frequency at which bed-wetting becomes a medical problem vary somewhat. Many researchers consider bed-wetting normal until age 6. About 10% of 6-year-old children wet the bed about once a month. More boys than girls have this problem. The American Psychiatric Association, however, defines enuresis as repeated voiding of urine into the bed or clothes at age five or older. The wetting is usually involuntary but in some cases it is intentional. For a diagnosis of enuresis, wetting must occur twice a week for at least three months with no underlying physiological cause. Enuresis, both nighttime (nocturnal) and daytime (diurnal), at age five affects 7% of boys and 3% of girls. By age 10, it affects 3% of boys and 2% of girls; only 1% of adolescents experience enuresis.
Enuresis is divided into two classes. A child with primary enuresis has never established bladder control. A child with secondary enuresis begins to wet after a prolonged dry period. Some children have both nocturnal and diurnal enuresis.

Causes and symptoms

The causes of bed-wetting are not entirely known. It tends to run in families. Most children with primary enuresis have a close relative-a parent, aunt, or uncle-who also had the disorder. About 70% of children with two parents who wet the bed will also wet the bed. Twin studies have shown that both of a pair of identical twins experience enuresis more often than both of a pair of fraternal twins.
Sometimes bed-wetting can be caused by a serious medical problem like diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, or epilepsy. Snoring and episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep (sleep apnea) occasionally contribute to bed-wetting problems. Enlarged adenoids can cause these conditions. Other physiological problems, such as urinary tract infection, severe constipation, or spinal cord injury, can cause bed-wetting.

Key terms

Acupressure — A technique using pressure to various points on the body to alleviate health problems.
ADH — Antidiuretic hormone, or the hormone that helps to concentrate urine during the night.
Behavior modification — Techniques used to change harmful behavior patterns.
Bladder — The muscular sac or container that stores urine until it is released from the body through the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body (urethra).
DDAVP — Desmopressin acetate, a drug used to regulate urine production.
Hypnosis — The technique by which a trained professional relaxes the subject and then asks questions or gives suggestions.
Imipramine hydrochloride — A drug used to increase bladder capacity.
Kidneys — A pair of organs located on each side of the spine in the lower back area. They excrete, or get rid of, urine.
Nocturnal enuresis — Involuntary discharge of urine during the night.
Urinalysis — A urine test.
Urine — The fluid excreted by the kidneys, stored in the bladder, then discharged from the body through the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body (urethra).
Void — To empty the bladder.
Children who wet the bed frequently may have a smaller than normal functional bladder capacity. Functional bladder capacity is the amount of urine a person can hold in the bladder before feeling a strong urge to urinate. When functional capacity is small, the bladder will not hold all the urine produced during the night. Tests have shown that bladder size in these children is normal. Nevertheless, they experience frequent strong urges to urinate. Such children urinate often during the daytime and may wet several times at night. Although a small functional bladder capacity may be caused by a developmental delay, it may also be that the child's habit of voiding frequently slows bladder development.
Parents often report that their bed-wetting child is an extremely sound sleeper and difficult to wake. However, several research studies found that bed-wetting children have normal sleep patterns and that bed-wetting can occur in any stage of sleep.
Recent medical research has found that many children who wet the bed may have a deficiency of an important hormone known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH helps to concentrate urine during sleep hours, meaning that the urine contains less water and therefore takes up less space. This decreased volume of water usually prevents the child's bladder from overfilling during the night, unless the child drank a lot just before going to bed. Testing of many bed-wetting children has shown that these children do not have the usual increase in ADH during sleep. Children who wet the bed, therefore, often produce more urine during the hours of sleep than their bladders can hold. If they do not wake up, the bladder releases the excess urine and the child wets the bed.
Research demonstrates that in most cases bed-wetting does not indicate that the child has a physical or psychological problem. Children who wet the bed usually have normal-sized bladders and have sleep patterns that are no different from those of non-bed-wetting children. Sometimes emotional stress, such as the birth of a sibling, a death in the family, or separation from the family, may be associated with the onset of bed-wetting in a previously toilet-trained child. Daytime wetting, however, may indicate that the problem has a physical cause.
While most children have no long-term problems as a result of bed-wetting, some children may develop psychological problems. Low self-esteem may occur when these children, who already feel embarrassed, are further humiliated by angry or frustrated parents who punish them or who are overly aggressive about toilet training. The problem can by aggravated when playmates tease or when social activities such as sleep-away camp are avoided for fear of teasing.


If a child continues to wet the bed after the age of six, parents may feel the need to seek evaluation and diagnosis by the family doctor or a children's specialist (pediatrician). Typically, before the doctor can make a diagnosis, a thorough medical history is obtained. Then the child receives a physical examination, appropriate laboratory tests, including a urine test (urinalysis), and, if necessary, radiologic studies (such as x rays).
If the child is healthy and no physical problem is found, which is the case 90% of the time, the doctor may not recommend treatment but rather may provide the parents and the child with reassurance, information, and advice.


Occasionally a doctor will determine that the problem is serious enough to require treatment. Standard treatments for bed-wetting include bladder training exercises, motivational therapy, drug therapy, psychotherapy, and diet therapy.
Bladder training exercises are based on the theory that those who wet the bed have small functional bladder capacity. Children are told to drink a large quantity of water and to try to prolong the periods between urinations. These exercises are designed to increase bladder capacity but are only successful in resolving bed-wetting in a small number of patients.
In motivational therapy, parents attempt to encourage the child to combat bed-wetting, but the child must want to achieve success. Positive reinforcement, such as praise or rewards for staying dry, can help improve self-image and resolve the condition. Punishment for "wet" nights will hamper the child's self-esteem and compound the problem.
The following motivational techniques are commonly used:
  • Behavior modification. This method of therapy is aimed at helping children take responsibility for their nighttime bladder control by teaching new behaviors. For example, children are taught to use the bathroom before bedtime and to avoid drinking fluids after dinner. While behavior modification generally produces good results, it is long-term treatment.
  • Alarms. This form of therapy uses a sensor placed in the child's pajamas or in a bed pad. This sensor triggers an alarm that wakes the child at the first sign of wetness. If the child is awakened, he or she can then go to the bathroom and finish urinating. The intention is to condition a response to awaken when the bladder is full. Bed-wetting alarms require the motivation of both parents and children. They are considered the most effective form of treatment now available.
A number of drugs are also used to treat bedwetting. These medications are usually fast acting; children often respond to them within the first week of treatment. Among the drugs commonly used are a nasal spray of desmopressin acetate (DDAVP), a substance similar to the hormone that helps regulate urine production; and imipramine hydrochloride, a drug that helps to increase bladder capacity. Studies show that imipramine is effective for as many as 50% of patients. However, children often wet the bed again after the drug is discontinued, and it has some side effects. Some bed-wetting with an underlying physical cause can be treated by surgical procedures. These causes include enlarged adenoids that cause sleep apnea, physical defects in the urinary system, or a spinal tumor.
Psychotherapy is indicated when the child exhibits signs of severe emotional distress in response to events such as a death in the family, the birth of a new child, a change in schools, or divorce. Psychotherapy is also indicated if a child shows signs of persistently low self-esteem or depression.
In rare cases, allergies or intolerances to certain foods-such as dairy products, citrus products, or chocolate-can cause bed-wetting. When children have food sensitivities, bed-wetting may be helped by discovering the substances that trigger the allergic response and eliminating these substances from the child's diet.

Alternative treatment

A number of alternative treatments are available for bed-wetting.


According to practitioners of this technique, pressure applied to various points on the body may help alleviate the condition. Acupressure or massage, when done by a trained therapist, may also be helpful in bedwetting caused by a neurologic problem.

Herbal and homeopathic remedies

Some herbal remedies, such as horsetail (Equisetum arvense) have also been used to treat bed-wetting. A trained homeopathic practitioner, working at the constitutional level, will seek to rebalance the child's vital force, eliminating the imbalanced behavior of bed-wetting. Common homeopathic remedies used in this treatment include Causticum, Lycopodium, and Pulsatilla.


Hypnosis is another approach that is being used successfully by practitioners trained in this therapy. It trains the child to awaken and go to the bathroom when his or her bladder feels full. Hypnosis is less expensive, less time-consuming, and less dangerous than most approaches; it has virtually no side effects. Recent medical studies show that hypnotherapy can work quickly-within four to six sessions.


Occasional bed-wetting is not a disease and it does not have a "cure." If the child has no underlying physical or psychological problem that is causing the bed-wetting, in most cases he or she will outgrow the condition without treatment. About 15% of bedwetters become dry each year after age 6. If bed-wetting is frequent, accompanied by daytime wetting, or falls into the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic definition of enuresis, a doctor should be consulted. If treatment is indicated, it usually successfully resolves the problem. Marked improvement is seen in about 75% of cases treated with wetness alarms.


Although preventing a child from wetting the bed is not always possible, parents can take steps to help the child keep the bed dry at night. These steps include:
  • Encouraging and praising the child for staying dry instead of punishing when the child wets.
  • Reminding the child to urinate before going to bed, if he or she feels the need.
  • Limiting liquid intake at least two hours before bedtime.



Association for the Care of Children's Health (ACCH). 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20814. (800) 808-2224.
National Association for Continence. P.O. Box 8310, Spartenburg, SC 29305. (800) 252-3337.
National Enuresis Society. 7777 Forest Lane, Suite C-737, Dallas, TX 75230-2518. (800) 697-8080.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a type of urinary incontinence, usually referring to involuntary discharge of urine during sleep at night (nocturnal enuresis or bed-wetting), such as in a child beyond the age when bladder control should have been achieved. adj., adj enuret´ic. It can occur as a result of such organic conditions as structural defects or infections of the urinary tract, neurologic deficit and resultant loss of control, nocturnal epilepsy, diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus, which increase urine flow, and renal disorders that impair the kidney's ability to concentrate urine. If no organic basis can be found for bed-wetting, psychogenic factors are considered.
Patient Care. Efforts to manage enuresis require patience on the part of parents and understanding that the child may be embarrassed by the condition and its effects. Reprimands and punishment are not appropriate and only make matters worse. The child also needs to be encouraged to participate in planning and implementing the program of care and to have hope and confidence that the problem can be overcome.

Among the techniques used to manage nocturnal enuresis are restricting fluids after the evening meal, bladder training to help enlarge the capacity of the bladder, and fully awakening the child once or twice during the night to walk to the bathroom and urinate. Electronic devices that establish a conditioned reflex response to waken the child the moment urination starts are successful in some cases. An anticholinergic drug may be prescribed as an adjunct to any of these techniques. desmopressin acetate nasal spray (DDAVP) may also be used.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

noc·tur·nal en·u·re·sis

urinary incontinence during sleep.
Synonym(s): bed-wetting
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


Enuresis that occurs while sleeping.

bed wetter n.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


Enuresis Pediatrics The involuntary nocturnal passage of urine in children after ages 4 or 5 yrs; BW is 2-fold more common in ♂ Management Behavior modification, supportive attitude by parents, limit fluids at bedtime; alarms—a sleep pad that triggers an alarm when wet, vasopressin nasal spray has been used in some children
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

noc·tur·nal en·u·re·sis

(nok-tŭr'năl en-yūr-ē'sis)
Urinary incontinence during sleep.
Synonym(s): bed-wetting.
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
Although NE has been extensively studied in relation to the onset of bed-wetting (primary and secondary bed-wetting), [5-9] very few studies have been conducted in terms of the absence or presence of daytime voiding symptoms, [16,17] which means there is a dearth of data for comparison.
Bed-wetting, also called enuresis, in particular has almost been completely discredited as a marker of sociopathy and violent tendencies.
The sensor data and manually reported data collected by the system are merged, analyzed and displayed, providing instant notifications of bed-wetting incidents detected by the moisture sensor.
It is important to convince the child that bed-wetting is not a disease, but a bad habit that can be brought to an end by their own will and without any medical treatment.
Others, Klass said, fall into a category discovered in the mid-1990s by Danish researchers, of people whose 13th chromosome has some sort of link to bed-wetting. But more recently, it appears that three other chromosomes also may be involved in the genetic form of the enuresis problem.
It causes the breathing to be interrupted for sufficiently long to affect sleep, which in turn may trigger further problems like not doing well at school, bed-wetting or behvioural problems.
The style of the pants, together with an odor-control feature, is meant to provide a sense of normalcy to those children ages 5 to 12 who are dealing with bed-wetting.
However, bed-wetting is not a disease, but a symptom and a fairly common one.
But since starting the new term at nearby Farringdon Junior School in September, her parents say she has suffered bouts of vomiting, bed-wetting and refuses to go to school.
To rule out physical problems, anyone with a bed-wetting condition should first be seen by their doctor.
NORDIC BUSINESS REPORT-3 June 2004-Norwegian court orders welfare authorities to compensate family for bed-wetting - report(C)1994-2004 M2 COMMUNICATIONS LTD
I'm not some whingeing, bed-wetting, muesli-scoffing, sandal-wearing liberal.