What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the
loss of urine control. You may not be able to hold your urine until you can reach a
restroom. It may be a short-term problem caused by another health issue. Or it may be a
long-term problem that you’ll have to manage. UI can range from a slight loss of urine
to severe, frequent wetting.
Fear of wetting yourself can keep you from enjoying activities with your family and friends. Incontinence during sex can cause great stress.
UI is not a normal part of aging.
But it is common in older people.
The following are some of the different types of UI:
Urge incontinence. When the need to
urinate comes on very quickly. Often, you may not be able to get to a restroom in
time. It’s common in people who have certain conditions such as diabetes, stroke,
dementia, Parkinson disease, and multiple sclerosis. It may be a sign that these
other conditions that need attention. It’s more common in older adults and may be a
sign of a urinary tract infection or an overactive bladder.
Stress incontinence. The most common
type of incontinence. It’s more common in women. You may leak urine during exercise,
coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects. Or when doing other movements
that put pressure on the bladder.
Functional incontinence. When you
have urine control, but can’t get to a restroom in time. This may be due to
conditions that make it hard to move, such as arthritis.
Overflow incontinence. The leakage
of small amounts of urine caused by an over-filled bladder. It may feel like you
can’t fully empty your bladder.
Mixed incontinence. A mix of more
than one of the types listed above.
What causes urinary incontinence?
Changes from certain diseases or medicines may cause UI. It may also happen at the start of an illness.
Women are most likely to have
incontinence during or after pregnancy and childbirth. Hormone changes of menopause may
also cause it. This is because of weakened and stretched pelvic muscles.
Some of the other common causes include:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Birth defects
- Urinary tract infection (may be the first and only symptom)
- For men, an enlarged prostate gland or treatment of a prostate problem
- Stool buildup in the bowels
- Being overweight (this increases pressure on the bladder and the muscles that control it)
- Nerve damage from spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson disease, and multiple sclerosis
- Overactive bladder (the bladder squeezes at the wrong times and without warning)
What are the symptoms of urinary incontinence?
These are the most common symptoms of UI:
- Not being able to urinate
- Pain linked to filling the bladder or
urinating without bladder infection
- Stream of urine gets weaker and weaker with or without a feeling that you have not emptied your bladder completely
- Urinate more without bladder infection
- Needing to rush to the restroom or
losing urine if you don’t get to a restroom in time
- Abnormal urination or changes related to stroke, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis
- Urine leakage that prevents activities
- Leakage of urine that starts or continues after surgery
- Leakage of urine that causes embarrassment
- Frequent bladder infections
The symptoms of UI may look like other conditions or health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?
The most important step in
diagnosing UI is talking with a healthcare provider. Don’t let embarrassment keep you
from getting help.
It’s important to see a healthcare
provider for a physical exam that focuses on the urinary and nervous systems,
reproductive organs, and includes testing urine samples. You may be referred to a
urologist or urogynecologist, a healthcare provider who specializes in urinary tract