Conditions InDepth: Urinary Incontinence
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
Urinary incontinence is the loss of voluntary bladder control causing leakage of urine. This temporary or chronic condition has multiple mechanisms and many causes. Each cause has its own methods of diagnosis and its own treatment plan.
Urinary bladder function is a careful balance between pressure from the bladder to empty and resistance from the sphincter (valve) at its outlet. Pressure to empty increases suddenly when the bladder reaches a certain volume.
Sphincter resistance depends not only on the strength of the muscle but also on its position. Both forces are controlled mostly by your autonomic (automatic) nervous system, the same system that regulates body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and everything else your body does without you thinking about it. You do, however, have control over the sphincter and can strengthen it with exercise.
Urinary incontinence is common, especially in older men and women. This is especially true of people who are living in a nursing home. Those who are obese may be more likely to have urinary incontinence.
What are the causes of incontinence?
What are the risk factors for urinary incontinence?
What are the symptoms of urinary incontinence?
How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?
What are the treatments for urinary incontinence?
Are there screening tests for urinary incontinence?
How can I reduce my risk of urinary incontinence?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
What is it like to live with urinary incontinence?
Where can I get more information about urinary incontinence?
DynaMed Editorial Team. Urinary incontinence. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated July 7, 2010. Accessed August 17, 2010.
Kasper D, Harrison T. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.
What is incontinence? National Association for Continence website. Available at: http://www.nafc.org/bladder-bowel-health/ . Accessed September 6, 2011.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014