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What Are the Causes of Adult Bed Wetting?

author image Sydney Hornby, M.D.
Sydney Hornby specializes in metabolic disease and reproductive endocrinology. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he earned his M.D., and has worked for several years in academic medical research. Writing for publication since 1995, Hornby has had articles featured in "Medical Care," "Preventive Medicine" and "Medical Decision Making."
What Are the Causes of Adult Bed Wetting?
Man sleeping in a bed. Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images


About 1 percent of adults suffer from a bed wetting problem, which is also known as nocturnal enuresis. Bed wetting is not a natural part of the aging process; instead, the causes of adult bed wetting are usually related to an underlying illness. While it may be embarrassing, it is important for an individual suffering from nocturnal enuresis to discuss the issue with his physician. A thorough examination, including medical history and blood tests, will likely reveal the root cause of the problem.


Certain prescription drugs, particularly hypnotics, can cause adult bed wetting. Hypnotics are a class of drugs physicians use to treat insomnia. They are also used as sedatives or in surgical procedures. Phenobarbital, zolpidem, eszopiclone and diazepam are commonly prescribed hypnotics. Hypnotics disturb the natural sleep pattern and induce a deep sleep. In doing so, they can prevent the natural urge to wake up and urinate.

Overactive Bladder

The detrusor muscle is located along the inside bladder wall. To empty the bladder, the detrusor muscle contracts to squeeze the urine out. Sometimes, the detrusor muscle spontaneously contracts, resulting in an overactive bladder. Adults suffering from nocturnal enuresis have overactive bladders in 70 to 80 percent of cases. Often simple dietary changes will correct this problem.

Prostate Enlargement

The prostate is a small gland located at the bottom of the bladder before the urethra in the male reproductive system. The gland grows at two points in a man's life, prior to puberty and again beginning in middle age. In middle age, the growth is called benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH. BPH normally causes symptoms after age 40. About 50 percent of men in their sixties and 90 percent of men past 70 experience BPH symptoms, according to the U.S. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. BPH can cause adult bed wetting.

Bladder Infection

Cystitis, or a bladder infection, is caused by bacteria inside the bladder. Women are more likely to suffer from bladder infections than men. One symptom of a bladder infection is bed wetting. Other symptoms include painful and frequent urination. Left untreated, a bladder infection can lead to other problems, such as a kidney infection. Fortunately, most bladder infections are easily treated with antibiotics.


In a catch-22, nocturnal enuresis is a stressful ailment, yet stress is a common cause of nocturnal enuresis. In the November 2006 issue of "Enuresis," Dr. Masayuki Tsugaya writes that most adults suffering from recurring nocturnal enuresis report being under stress. Stress-related nocturnal enuresis can be treated with anti-anxiety medication and cognitive therapy.

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