Urinary Incontinence Overview

Urinary incontinence — the loss of bladder control — is a common and often embarrassing problem. The severity ranges from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong you don’t get to a toilet in time.

Though it occurs more often as people get older, urinary incontinence isn’t an inevitable consequence of aging. If urinary incontinence affects your daily activities, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. For most people, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or stop urinary incontinence.

Types and Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence

  • Stress Incontinence: Urine leaks when you exert pressure on your bladder by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy.
  • Urge Incontinence: You have a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. You may need to urinate often, including throughout the night. Urge incontinence may be caused by a minor condition, such as infection, or a more-severe condition such as a neurologic disorder or diabetes.
  • Overflow Incontinence: You experience frequent or constant dribbling of urine due to a bladder that doesn’t empty completely.
  • Functional incontinence: A physical or mental impairment keeps you from making it to the toilet in time. For example, if you have severe arthritis, you may not be able to unbutton your pants quickly enough.
  • Mixed incontinence: You experience more than one type of urinary incontinence.
  • Total Incontinence

Factors and Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Stress Incontinence

  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • menopause, as falling estrogen can make the muscles weaker
  • hysterectomy and some other surgical procedures
  • age
  • obesity

Urge Incontinence

  • cystitis, an inflammation of the lining of the bladder
  • neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke, and Parkinson’s disease
  • enlarged prostate, which can cause the bladder to drop, and the urethra to become irritated

Overflow Incontinence

This happens when there is an obstruction or blockage to the bladder. The following may cause an obstruction:

  • an enlarged prostate gland
  • a tumor pressing against the bladder
  • urinary stones
  • constipation
  • urinary incontinence surgery which went too far

Total Incontinence

  • an anatomical defect present from birth
  • a spinal cord injury that impairs the nerve signals between the brain and the bladder
  • a fistula, when a tube or channel develops between the bladder and a nearby area, usually the vagina

Other Causes:

  • some medications, especially some diuretics, antihypertensive drugs, sleeping tablets, sedatives, and muscle relaxants
  • alcohol
  • urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urinary Incontinence Treatments

  • Behavioral techniques (bladder training, double voiding, or diet management)
  • Pelvic floor exercises
  • Medications
  • Medical devices (urethral inserts or pessary)
  • Interventional therapies (bulking material injections, Botox, or nerve simulators)
  • Surgery
  • Absorbent pads and catheters