(Incontinence, Urinary; Incontinence, Stress; Incontinence, Urge; Incontinence, Overflow; Incontinence, Functional; Stress Incontinence; Urge Incontinence; Overflow Incontinence; Functional Incontinence; Overactive Bladder)
by Julie Riley, MS, RD
Urinary incontinence is the loss of voluntary bladder control that can cause leakage of urine. It can be temporary or last for a long time.
There are four types of long-term or permanent incontinence:
People may have just one or a combination of these types.
Incontinence has several different causes. The cause could also be unclear.
Temporary incontinence can be caused by:
Stress incontinence may be caused by:
Urge incontinence is the accidental loss of urine when the bladder spasms for no reason. It may be caused or worsened by:
Overflow incontinence is caused by overfill and overflow of the bladder. It may be caused or worsened by:
Functional incontinence may be caused by:
Some incontinence may be caused by a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal opening between the bladder and another nearby structure. The fistula can make it difficult for the bladder to act as it should.
Urinary incontinence is more common in women age 65 years or older.
Factors that may increase your chances of urinary incontinence:
Any loss of bladder control can be considered incontinence.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you have a loss of urine control. Your doctor can help you determine the underlying cause.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. You will be asked how often you empty your bladder and patterns of urine leakage. A physical exam will be done to look for any physical causes, such as blockages or nerve problems. You may be referred to a specialist.
Your bodily fluids will be tested. This can be done with:
The flow of your urine will be assessed. This can be done with:
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Treatments are based on the cause of the urinary incontinence.
Temporary incontinence may be relieved by managing the conditions associated with the incontinence.
Weight loss may help reduce the number of episodes due to stress or urge incontinence in people who are overweight or obese. Talk to your doctor about a weight loss program that is right for you.
Initial treatment relies on behavior changes and strengthening pelvic floor muscles. Behavior changes include:
Methods to increase strength in the pelvic floor muscles include:
Surgical procedures may be done for incontinence that is not responding to these treatments. Surgical options include:
Initial treatment depends on behavior changes and strengthening pelvic floor muscles. Behavior changes include:
Kegel exercises can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and relieve some symptoms.
Medications may be recommended. Anticholinergics are the most common medication. They can relax the muscles of the bladder. Other medications may be used in combination to help manage symptoms, such as botulinum toxin injections.
Nerve stimulation may be used if urge incontinence does not respond to behavior modification or medication. A device will send pulses to the nerves that control the bladder. This has been shown to help stimulate bladder control. In some cases, the device is implanted in the back.
Treatment for overflow incontinence is to allow the bladder to completely empty. If a blockage is causing the problems, surgery may be needed to open the urine pathways.
Other causes of overflow incontinence may require the use of a tube called a catheter to allow urine to drain from the bladder. People can use certain catheters at home.
Other Management Steps
Absorbent pads or diapers can be used to manage urinary leakage. Plugs and patches can also be used to help hold urine in place.
A supportive device called a pessary may also be used. Pessaries are devices that raise the uterus or the prolapsed bladder. It can decrease pressure on the bladder.
Incontinence is a symptom of many other conditions. There are several ways to prevent incontinence:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Urology Care Foundation
Women's Health Matters—Women's College Hospital
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Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 4/25/2018
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