When my 6 year old daughter ran to the bathroom 3-4 times before she got on the school bus every morning, I wasn’t too concerned, but I definitely took note. The day she was in tears and wouldn’t get off the toilet because she felt like she was still wet, I got worried (although slightly intrigued). No matter how much she wiped, she still felt wet. When she stood up, she felt like she was going to pee herself, making my sweet-natured girl slip into hysterics. After eliminating small amounts of urine 8 separate times in 3 hours and saying it burned, I assumed she had a urinary tract infection (UTI). A simple urine test ruled out UTI or diabetes (thankfully!). So then, what was my daughter’s diagnosis? The pediatrician simply referred to it as “a phase;” however, I had researched the symptoms before the visit.
In 2014 Arlen et al. described a condition called “phantom urinary incontinence.” This refers to the situation when children experience the sensation of being wet (a presumptive urinary incontinence) when they are objectively dry. They considered 20 children (18 females, 2 males) referred to their pediatric urology clinic over a 5 year span, all who were all diagnosed with phantom urinary incontinence (PUI). The authors evaluated the concomitant diagnoses found among the boys and girls in the study. Lower urinary tract symptoms were present in 95% of the subjects. Associated bladder symptoms were found as well, with urgency in 75% and frequency in 50% of the children. Vaginitis occurred in 72% of the girls. Parents reported obsessive-compulsive disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder personality traits in 70% of the children. In order to treat these patients, dietary modifications, timed voiding, and a bowel regimen were implemented to manage symptoms. A follow up at 14.4 months revealed 90% of the children’s bowel-bladder dysfunction improved and PUI resolved. The authors concluded children compliant with a rigid bladder-bowel regimen experience relief of their “phantom” incontinence as well as lower urinary tract symptoms, and a majority of PUI patients have obsessive-compulsive traits.
Oliver et al., (2013) studied how psychosocial comorbidities and body mass index relate to children with lower urinary tract dysfunction. Data on 358 patients with lower urinary tract dysfunction between 6 to 17 years old was collected, and the subjects’ parents completed questionnaires screening for lower urinary tract symptoms, stressful life events, and psychological comorbidities. Obesity was present in 28.5% of the children, 22.9% had a recent stress in life, and 22.9% had a psychiatric disorder. Under and overweight children, children with a recent life stressor, psychiatric disorder, or both, as well as the younger-aged children all had lower urinary tract symptom scores significantly higher than healthy weight subjects, those without psychosocial comorbidities, and older subjects. The results encourage screening for psychosocial issues and obesity in pediatric patients with lower urinary tract dysfunction.
Having read the research, I knew a life stressor was likely contributing to my daughter’s symptoms. I had already advised her to sit on the toilet every 1-2 hours, don’t let her bladder get too full, wipe gently from front to back, stop bubble baths, and wear looser pants. To conclude our $76 session, the doctor prescribed almost verbatim what my daughter had heard from me at home. Although thankful it wasn’t something more serious, I am curious what the diagnosis code is for “a phase” and when it will end.
Arlen, AM, Dewhurst, LL, Kirsch, SS, Dingle, AD, Scherz, HC, Kirsch, AJ. (2014). Phantom urinary incontinence in children with bladder-bowel dysfunction. Urology. 84(3):685-8. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2014.04.046 Oliver, J.L., Campigotto, M.J., Coplen, D.E. et al,. (2013). Psychosocial comorbidities and obesity are associated with lower urinary tract symptoms in children with voiding dysfunction. The Journal of Urology. 190:1511–1515. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.juro.2013.02.025