What Is Bed-Wetting?

When a child accidentally leaks urine it is called incontinence. When this happens at night, while the child is asleep, it is called enuresis, or bed-wetting. This is a common problem for more than 5 million children in the U.S. It is slightly more common in boys than in girls. This issue can be frustrating for children, parents and health care providers. In the past it was common to downplay bed-wetting and hope it would get better with time. Today, with children spending more nights away from home (at camps, sleepovers and field trips), this has become an issue at an earlier age. But with patience, most children can be treated.

Most children have some level of daytime and nighttime bladder control by age 4. Any loss of bladder control that occurs during sleep in a child who is 5 years old or older should be looked into. About 20% of 5 year-old children have at least some bed-wetting, but about 15% of these children per year will simply grow out of this health problem.

There are 2 types of bed-wetting. Secondary enuresis is when the child has had a period of being dry during sleep (most often 6 to 12 months). Up to 25% of all bedwetters have secondary enuresis. Primary enuresis describes children who have never been dry when they sleep. While some cases of secondary enuresis can be linked to recent stress, the testing, care and results are often the same as for primary enuresis.