Urinary (or bladder) incontinence occurs when you are not able to keep urine from leaking out of your urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of your body from your bladder. You may leak urine from time to time. Or, you may not be able to hold any urine.
The 3 main types of urinary incontinence are:
- Stress incontinence occurs during activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercise.
- Urge incontinence occurs as a result of a strong, sudden need to urinate. Then the bladder squeezes and you lose urine. You don’t have enough time after you feel the need to urinate to get to the bathroom before you do urinate.
- Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder cannot empty. This leads to dribbling.
Mixed incontinence occurs when you have more than one type of urinary incontinence.
Bowel incontinence is when you are unable to control the passage of stool. It is not covered in this article.
Causes of urinary incontinence include:
- Blockage in the urinary system
- Brain or nerve problems
- Dementia or other mental health problems that make it hard to feel and respond to the urge to urinate
- Problems with the urinary system
- Nerve and muscle problems
- Weakness of the pelvic or urethral muscles
Incontinence may be sudden and go away after a short period of time. Or, it may continue long-term. Causes of sudden or temporary incontinence include:
- Bedrest such as when you are recovering from surgery
- Certain medicines (such as diuretics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, some cough and cold remedies, and antihistamines)
- Mental confusion
- Prostate infection or inflammation
- Stool impaction from severe constipation, which causes pressure on the bladder
- Urinary tract infection or inflammation
- Weight gain
Causes that may be more long-term:
- Alzheimer disease.
- Bladder cancer.
- Bladder spasms.
- Large prostate in men.
- Nervous system conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or stroke.
- Nerve or muscle damage after radiation treatment to the pelvis.
- Pelvic prolapse in women -- falling or sliding of the bladder, urethra, or rectum into the vagina. This may be caused by pregnancy and delivery.
- Problems with the urinary tract.
- Spinal cord injuries.
- Weakness of the sphincter, the circle-shaped muscles that open and close the bladder. This can be caused by prostate surgery in men, or surgery to the vagina in women.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Talk to your provider about incontinence. Providers who treat incontinence are called gynecologists and urologists. They can find the cause and recommend treatments.
Call your local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you suddenly lose control over urine and you have:
- Difficulty talking, walking, or speaking
- Sudden weakness, numbness, or tingling in an arm or leg
- Loss of vision
- Loss of consciousness or confusion
- Loss of bowel control
Call your provider if you have:
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Trouble starting your urine flow
Loss of bladder control; Uncontrollable urination; Urination - uncontrollable; Incontinence - urinary
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