Bed wetting is a common childhood disorder, affecting between 5 to 7 million children ages 6 and over in the United States, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Problem bed wetting is defined as wetting the bed twice a week on average. To best understand how to help your child, it's important to determine the cause of the bed wetting. Bed wetting may result from bladder conditions or stress and, in some cases, may even be a warning sign of child abuse.
Types of Bed Wetting
Bed wetting is classified as either primary or secondary bed wetting. Primary bed wetting, which refers to bed wetting in children who have never been dry at night, but are expected to have developed bladder control, is more common. A study published in the Western Journal of Medicine reports that primary bed wetting accounts for 80 percent of cases. Many physicians believe that children should develop bladder control, including control while they are sleeping, by age 5. Secondary bed wetting is bed wetting that develops after a child has consistently been dry at night for at least six months.
Causes of Bed Wetting
The main causes for primary bed wetting are physical in nature and usually involve problems with bladder capacity and muscle control. Genetics also play a strong role. According to the American Sleep Association, if a child is born to parents who both wet the bed, then he has a 77 percent chance of wetting the bed himself. In secondary bed wetting, urinary tract infections or disease may also be the cause, but the problem could also be rooted in psychological stress.
When Stress May be the Cause
The older the child, the more likely that stress is the cause of secondary bed wetting. Stress may be caused by many situations, such as the birth of a sibling, divorce, death of a family member, problems at school or child abuse. When it comes to child abuse, bed wetting is usually associated with sexual abuse. While bed wetting may be a warning sign of sexual abuse, it usually occurs in combination with other symptoms.
Child Abuse Statistics and Symptoms
Each year in the United States, more than 3 million cases of child abuse are reported, with sexual abuse accounting for 8 percent of cases, according to Childhelp, a leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that studies show up to one in four girls and one in eight boys are sexually abused by age 18. Besides secondary bed wetting, other signs of sexual abuse include fearful behavior, abdominal or genital pain, urinary tract infection, or inappropriate sexual behavior.
If your child has a bed wetting problem, consult your pediatrician. He will perform an exam to determine if there is a physical cause and recommend appropriate treatment options. Your pediatrician will also be able to look for signs of possible abuse and report suspected cases to the appropriate authorities so that you and your child receive the help you need. Most importantly, take action immediately to ensure the health and safety of your child.