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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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Topic Overview


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.

Different types of incontinence have different causes.

  • Stress incontinence can happen when the prostate gland is removed. If there has been damage to the nerves or to the sphincter, the lower part of the bladder may not have enough support. Keeping urine in the bladder is then up to the sphincter alone.
  • Urge incontinence is caused by bladder muscles that squeeze so hard that the sphincter can't hold back the urine. This causes a very strong urge to urinate.
  • Overflow incontinence can be caused by something blocking the urethra, which leads to urine building up in the bladder. This is often caused by an enlarged prostate gland or a narrow urethra. It may also happen because of weak bladder muscles.

In men, incontinence is often related to prostate problems or treatments.

Drinking alcohol can make urinary incontinence worse. Taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs such as diuretics, antidepressants, sedatives, narcotics, or nonprescription cold and diet medicines can also affect your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
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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