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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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Topic Overview

Urinary incontinence is the accidental leaking of urine. It's not a disease. It's a symptom of a problem with a man's urinary tractcamera.gif.

Urine is made by the kidneys and stored in a sac made of muscle, called the urinary bladder. A tube called the urethra leads from the bladder through the prostate and penis to the outside of the body. Around this tube is a ring of muscles called the urinary sphincter. As the bladder fills with urine, nerve signals tell the sphincter to stay squeezed shut while the bladder stays relaxed. The nerves and muscles work together to prevent urine from leaking out of the body.

When you have to urinate, the nerve signals tell the muscles in the walls of the bladder to squeeze. This forces urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time the bladder squeezes, the urethra relaxes. This allows urine to pass through the urethra and out of the body.

Incontinence can happen for many reasons:

  • If your bladder squeezes at the wrong time, or if it squeezes too hard, urine may leak out.
  • If the muscles around the urethra are damaged or weak, urine can leak out even if you don't have a problem with your bladder squeezing at the wrong time.
  • If your bladder doesn't empty when it should, you are left with too much urine in the bladder. If the bladder gets too full, urine will leak out when you don't want it to.
  • If something is blocking your urethra, urine can build up in the bladder. This can cause leaking.

Urinary incontinence happens more often in older men than in young men. But it's not just a normal part of aging.

Urinary incontinence can be short-term or long-lasting (chronic). Short-term incontinence is often caused by other health problems or treatments. This topic is about the different types of chronic urinary incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence means that you leak urine when you sneeze, cough, laugh, lift something, change position, or do something that puts stress or strain on your bladder.
  • Urge incontinence is an urge to urinate that's so strong that you can't make it to the toilet in time. It also happens when your bladder squeezes when it shouldn't. This can happen even when you have only a small amount of urine in your bladder. Overactive bladder is a kind of urge incontinence. But not everyone with an overactive bladder leaks urine.
  • Overflow incontinence means that you have the urge to urinate, but you can release only a small amount. Since your bladder doesn't empty as it should, it then leaks urine later.
  • Total incontinence means that you are always leaking urine. It happens when the sphincter muscle no longer works.
  • Functional incontinence means that you can't make it to the bathroom in time to urinate. This is usually because something got in your way or you were not able to walk there on your own.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 06, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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