Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

There are several types of urinary incontinence. The causes vary depending on the type.

Temporary Incontinence

Temporary incontinence can be caused by:

  • Medications
  • Constipation
  • Urinary infection
  • Restricted mobility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Unavailability of a restroom

Many medications can cause urinary problems, including blood pressure pills, sleeping pills, indigestion remedies, and antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you are suffering from incontinence and are taking any type of medication.

Nontemporary Incontinence

More permanent incontinence may be classified as one of the following 4 types. Some people have a mixture of these types. In some cases, incontinence may have several different causes. Sometimes the cause is unclear.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence results when certain activities increase pressure on the bladder. Leaking can be triggered by laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise. This is the most common type of incontinence and may be caused by:

  • Weakening of the muscles that support the bladder
  • Weakening of the sphincter muscle that controls the flow of urine

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. You are unable to hold urine long enough to make it to the bathroom. This is also known as overactive bladder. It may be caused by:

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder is full. The increased pressure generated by an over-full bladder exceeds the strength of the valve holding urine in. It may be caused by:

  • A bladder that is blocked, such as by a scar in the urethra
  • Fecal impaction
  • Drugs such as antidepressants, hypnotics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and calcium channel blockers
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Nerve damage due to:
    • Surgery
    • Diabetes
    • Spinal cord injuries
    • Other factors

When nerve controls to your bladder are absent, as in spinal cord injury, the bladder will empty when it reaches a certain volume. This is called a neurogenic bladder. If you have this condition, you will learn how to drain urine periodically or permanently with a tube called a catheter inserted directly into your bladder.

Functional Incontinence

Your bladder control may be perfectly normal, but any mental or physical condition that slows you down or confines you may result in loss of urine. This is called functional incontinence.

Other Causes of Incontinence


Occasionally an abnormal channel called a fistula opens between the bladder and the outside world. It can be from a birth defect, an injury, or a complication of surgery. Fistulas cause continuous, uncontrolled urine dribbling and can be surgically repaired.


Urinary incontinence. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians. Available at: Updated April 2014. Accessed May 19, 2017.

Urinary incontinence. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: Accessed May 19, 2017.

Last reviewed May 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD  Last Updated: 12/20/2014