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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

Incontinence: A Woman's Little Secret

If you think urinary incontinence only affects older women, think again. Bladder control issues affect younger, active women, too -- are you one of them?
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4 Types of Urinary Incontinence

When you can't control the release of your urine, you have urinary incontinence. For some the problem can be as minor as the rare dribble, for others as problematic as wetting your clothes. There are four kinds of these plumbing problems, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Stress incontinence is that little leak that happens when you cough, laugh, sneeze -- any motion that stresses or puts too much pressure on the bladder.

    Stress incontinence can result from pregnancy and childbirth, when pelvic muscles and tissues can get stretched and damaged. It can also occur from high-impact sports, as a result of aging, or from being overweight.

  • Urge incontinence aka "overactive bladder," is a bit different - it's the urgent need to go, followed by an involuntary loss of urine -- with anything from a few seconds to a minute's warning. It is thought to be due to spasms of the bladder muscles.

    Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or a urinary tract infection can cause urge incontinence.

  • Mixed incontinence means you have more than one type of incontinence, with stress and urge incontinence being the typical mix.

    "I think most women have both types," adds Brubaker. "I don't believe there's as much distinction between the two types as we might think."

  • Overflow incontinence . If you can't empty your bladder every time you go to the bathroom and experience a frequent or constant dribbling of urine, you have overflow incontinence.

    Certain medications can cause this problem, and people with nerve damage from diabetes or men with prostate issues can also experience this type of incontinence. It is due to impaired bladder muscle contractions or bladder obstructions.

Incontinence a Big Problem for Young Women

Among teens and young women, incontinence problems are typically related to sports injuries, says Pamela Moalli, MD, a professor of urogynecology at the University of Pittsburgh Magee-Womens Research Institute. "About 20% of college athletes report leakage of urine during sports activities," she tells WebMD.

"Women in high-impact sports are at highest risk -- parachuters, gymnasts, runners," says Moalli. "In these sports, you're hitting the ground hard, which can damage pelvic muscles and connective tissue that support the bladder."

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