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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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Topic Overview


Urinary incontinence is the accidental release of urine. It can happen when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or jog. Or you may have a sudden need to go to the bathroom but can't get there in time. Bladder control problems are very common, especially among older adults. They usually don't cause major health problems, but they can be embarrassing.

Incontinence can be a short-term problem caused by a urinary tract infection, a medicine, or constipation. It gets better when you treat the problem that is causing it. But this topic focuses on ongoing urinary incontinence.

There are two main kinds of urinary incontinence. Some women-especially older women-have both.

  • Stress incontinence occurs when you sneeze, cough, laugh, jog, or do other things that put pressure on your bladdercamera.gif. It is the most common type of bladder control problem in women.
  • Urge incontinence happens when you have a strong need to urinate but can't reach the toilet in time. This can happen even when your bladder is holding only a small amount of urine. Some women may have no warning before they accidentally leak urine. Other women may leak urine when they drink water or when they hear or touch running water. Overactive bladder is a kind of urge incontinence. But not everyone with overactive bladder leaks urine.

Bladder control problems may be caused by:

  • Weak muscles in the lower urinary tractcamera.gif.
  • Problems or damage either in the urinary tract or in the nerves that control urination.

Stress incontinence can be caused by childbirth, weight gain, or other conditions that stretch the pelvic floor musclescamera.gif. When these muscles can't support your bladder properly, the bladder drops down and pushes against the vagina. You can't tighten the muscles that close off the urethra. So urine may leak because of the extra pressure on the bladder when you cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise, or do other activities.

Urge incontinence is caused by an overactive bladder muscle that pushes urine out of the bladder. It may be caused by irritation of the bladder, emotional stress, or brain conditions such as Parkinson's disease or stroke. Many times doctors don't know what causes it.

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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