Urinary Incontinence

Causes of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, affects nearly one in four women. Almost half of all pregnant women experience some degree of urinary incontinence. This can affect lifestyle, self-esteem, relationships, and overall health.

Urinary incontinence can range from mild leakage to uncontrollable wetting. It can be the result of a wide range of conditions, including:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • pelvic support problems
  • hormone changes
  • urinary tract infection
  • diabetes
  • surgery
  • certain medications
  • obesity

Many women put off diagnosis and treatment out of a sense of embarrassment. However, medical and surgical treatment can usually resolve the problem.

Types of urinary incontinence

There are several main types of urinary incontinence:

Stress incontinence, the most common cause of leakage, is characterized by urine loss during everyday activities such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, exercising or lifting heavy objects.

Urge incontinence occurs when bladder muscles become too active and there is a strong, sudden urge to urinate, even when there is little urine in the bladder. Bladder infections, nerve damage, alcohol and some medications can contribute to urge incontinence. While urge incontinence is more likely to happen in older women, it can occur at any age.

Mixed incontinence combines stress and urge symptoms.

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder does not empty completely during urination. It happens when the bladder muscle is weak or when the urethra is blocked. This allows steady leaks of small amounts of urine.

Diagnosis of urinary incontinence

If you’re experiencing urinary loss, several steps may be needed to determine the cause and the best treatment method. In most cases, we may:

  • take a detailed medical history
  • conduct a pelvic exam
  • conduct lab tests
  • conduct a stress test (ask you to cough with a full bladder)
  • measure the pressure and volume of the bladder as it fills and the flow rate as it empties (urodynamics)
  • ask you to record the time and amount of urine leakage for several days
  • ask you to record how much liquid you drank and what you were doing when a leak occurred

For information on incontinence treatment options, link to Incontinence Therapy

Additional information

American UroGynecologic Society
National Association for Continence
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases