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Sometimes referred to as "overactive bladder" or "spastic bladder," urge incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine that usually occurs when a person has a strong, sudden need to urinate. Urge incontinence is not a disease. Rather, it is a sign that there is an underlying problem.

What Causes Urge Incontinence?

Urge incontinence is caused by abnormal bladder contractions. Normally, strong muscles called sphincters control the flow of urine from the bladder. With urge incontinence, the muscles of an "overactive" bladder contract with enough force to override the sphincter muscles of the urethra, which is the tube that takes urine out of the body.

The bladder may experience abnormal contractions for the following reasons:

  • The bladder may not be functioning properly because its nerves are damaged by various diseases -- for example, diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease.
  • The spinal cord may be damaged.
  • The bladder may be irritated.

In many cases, the cause of urge incontinence cannot be identified.

What Are the Symptoms of Urge Incontinence?

The main symptom of urge incontinence is the sudden urge to urinate and the involuntary loss of urine at inappropriate times. For instance, you may leak urine in public or while you are sleeping.

What Are the Risk Factors for Urge Incontinence?

People at greater risk for urge incontinence include:

  • older adults
  • women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby
  • women who have had a C-section or other pelvic surgery
  • people who are obese
  • men who have had prostate surgery or prostate conditions, such as enlarged prostate or prostatitis
  • people who have nerve damage from conditions such as diabetes, stroke, or injury
  • people with certain cancers, including the bladder and prostate
  • people who are suffering from urinary tract infections


How Is Urge Incontinence Treated?

Urge incontinence can be treated with a variety of behavioral treatments, medications, electrical stimulation, or with surgery. Sometimes a combination of treatments is used.

Behavioral Treatments for Urge Incontinence

One way of dealing with urge incontinence is to simply change some of your behaviors. For instance, if you can anticipate when your bladder is overactive and may be contracting abnormally, you can take action to avoid any mishaps or urine leakage.

Here are some techniques that may be helpful:

  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a practice that helps you learn how your body normally behaves. When you do, you will know when it is not functioning properly. In the case of urge incontinence, biofeedback can help you recognize when your bladder is overactive.

Two biofeedback techniques are timed voiding and bladder training. To practice timed voiding, you use a chart to record the times that you urinate and when you leak urine. This will give you an idea of your leakage "patterns." Then you can avoid leaking in the future by going to the bathroom at those times.

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