Treating nocturnal enuresis in children in primary care

Gordon Bottomley
Practitioner 2011, 255 (1741): 23-6, 2-3
Nocturnal enuresis is defined as involuntary wetting while asleep at least twice a week in children over the age of five. Primary nocturnal enuresis describes those children who have always been wet. Secondary nocturnal enuresis is defined as a relapse after a child has been completely dry for at least six months. Up to the age of nine years, nocturnal enuresis is twice as common in boys than girls but thereafter there is no sex difference in prevalence. At the age of five, 2% of children wet every night, and 1% are still wetting every night in their late teens. Bedwetting is not primarily caused by an underlying psychological disorder However, psychological problems and life events can exacerbate or precipitate bedwetting in susceptible children who have a genetic basis for their condition. The three systems approach to the management of the condition addresses: poor arousal from sleep, nocturnal polyuria and bladder dysfunction. Bedwetting is occasionally caused by underlying medical conditions; primarily urological, neurological, or metabolic. It can also be associated with obstructive sleep apnoea. However, these causes are uncommon in primary enuresis. A basic history and examination should exclude these conditions. If the bedwetting has started in the past few days or weeks, systemic illness should be considered e.g. UTI, diabetes mellitus. With secondary enuresis, symptoms or signs of medical and psychological conditions or life events may be elicited as possible causes, and may need separate treatment. Alarm treatment should be considered in any child over seven. The alarm takes several weeks to be effective and needs commitment from both child and carers. Desmopressin may be used as first-line treatment if rapid onset and/or short-term improvement is the priority of treatment or an alarm is inappropriate or undesirable.

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