What are the types of urinary incontinence?

Have you ever experienced an accidental loss of urine? Perhaps you were coughing or exercising. Maybe you felt like you had to go to the bathroom but didn’t make it in time. Loss of bladder control – whether it happens only occasionally or on a regular basis – is called urinary incontinence.

An estimated 30 million adults in the U.S. experience some sort of urinary incontinence, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Many people are reluctant to talk to their doctors about incontinence, so the incidence may be much higher.


Common types of urinary incontinence

Stress incontinence

When some type of physical change, like a sudden cough, sneeze or lifting a heavy object, causes you to leak urine, it’s called stress incontinence. The pelvic muscles responsible for holding in urine are weakened for some reason, meaning that they can’t keep urine from spilling over from the bladder when there is added, or unexpected, physical stress. This is the most common type of incontinence among women, and they experience stress incontinence more frequently than men.


Urge incontinence

During normal urination, the muscles within the bladder contract to allow emptying. People who have urge incontinence (also known as OAB, or overactive bladder) experience episodes where the bladder muscles contract at unexpected times – whether the bladder is full or not – and before you can reach the bathroom. The National Institutes of Health reports that urge incontinence is more common among women and the elderly.


Overflow incontinence

More common in men than in women, not being able to completely empty your bladder can lead to overflow incontinence. People with overflow incontinence may not even realize their bladder is full. Because all of the urine isn’t emptied from the bladder, leftover urine can cause bacteria to build up and lead to infections.


Functional incontinence

Certain diseases and medications can make it difficult for a person to be able to use the bathroom. For example, sedatives may make a person less aware of when his or her bladder is full. People with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other diseases that make fine motor skills more difficult, can experience problems making it to the bathroom in time to urinate, or they may find that removing clothing in order use the bathroom is challenging.


Note: Individuals may experience more than one type of urinary incontinence; this is called mixed incontinence.


Urinary incontinence treatment options

There are several approaches available for treating urinary incontinence. Your doctor will be able to review these options with you based on your circumstances and needs. Non-invasive treatments often involve modifications to your diet and lifestyle, while more invasive approaches may include medical and even surgical intervention. Products designed to help you manage your incontinence and absorb urine are also available.


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