Enuresis is the involuntary discharge of urine by a child age 5 and over. It can be psychologically distressful and a source of embarrassment for a child, but not physically harmful. Enuresis places a child at risk of being a target for name-calling and teasing from peers, behavior that can damage a child's self esteem and place him or her at risk of rejection. The presence of enuresis can place a limit on participation in highly desirable social experiences such as sleepovers and summer camp. The child may also have to face anger and humiliation from parents who do not understand the nature of this disorder.

Enuresis can be nocturnal-only or diurnal-only. Nocturnal enuresis is the most common form and is defined as passage of urine only during nighttime sleep. Diurnal enuresis, the voiding of urine only during waking hours, is more common in females than in males and is uncommon after age 9. Children being so preoccupied with a particular event that they are reluctant to use the toilet may cause it. A combination of nocturnal and diurnal enuresis can occur but it is extremely rare.

Primary enuresis refers to a condition whereby the child has not established at least 6 months of continuous nighttime control after reaching age 5. Secondary enuresis, whereby children establish urinary continence and relapse after age 5 or 6 is less common, and is associated with more stressful life events.

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Roughly 20% of children still wet their beds at age 5, only 5% do so by age 10, and 2% by age 15. Only 1 out of 100 children who wet their bed continues to have a problem in adulthood.

Enuresis. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • National Institutes of Health, 2008
  • American Psychiatric Association