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What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the inability to control urination.

Different types of Urinary Incontinence

There are five types of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, mixed incontinence and functional or environmental incontinence.

Stress incontinence is the most common type of urinary incontinence and happens when a person leaks urine when they cough, sneeze, exercise or do anything that puts pressure on the bladder.

Urge incontinence occurs when the bladder muscles are too active. People with urge incontinence lose urine as soon as they feel a strong desire to go to the bathroom.

Overflow incontinence is the feeling of never completely emptying the bladder.

Mixed incontinence is the combination of stress and urge incontinence.

Functional or environmental incontinence occurs when people cannot get to the toilet or get a bedpan when they need it. The urinary system may work well, but physical or psychological disabilities prevent normal toilet usage.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor About Urinary Incontinence

  • What type of incontinence is it?
  • What is causing it?
  • What are treatment options?
  • Will medication help?
  • Is bladder surgery necessary?
  • How can the bladder be strengthened?

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Urinary Incontinence in Women

Women are more likely than men to suffer from urinary incontinence

Millions of women experience involuntary loss of urine called urinary incontinence (UI). Some women may lose a few drops of urine while running or coughing. Others may feel a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine. Many women experience both symptoms. UI can be slightly bothersome or totally debilitating. For some women, the risk of public embarrassment keeps them from enjoying many activities with their family and friends. Urine loss can also occur during sexual activity and cause tremendous emotional distress.

Women experience UI twice as often as men. Pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and the structure of the female urinary tract account for this difference. But both women and men can become incontinent from neurologic injury, birth defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and physical problems associated with aging.

Older women experience UI more often than younger women. But incontinence is not inevitable with age. UI is a medical problem. Your doctor or nurse can help you find a solution. No single treatment works for everyone, but many women can find improvement without surgery.

Incontinence occurs because of problems with muscles and nerves that help to hold or release urine. The body stores urine—water and wastes removed by the kidneys—in the bladder, a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body.

During urination, muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass out of the body. Incontinence will occur if your bladder muscles suddenly contract or the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to hold back urine. Urine may escape with less pressure than usual if the muscles are damaged, causing a change in the position of the bladder. Obesity, which is associated with increased abdominal pressure, can worsen incontinence. Fortunately, weight loss can reduce its severity.

Urinary Incontinence in Men

Urinary incontinence (UI) is the accidental leakage of urine. At different ages, males and females have different risks for developing UI. In childhood, girls usually develop bladder control at an earlier age than boys, and bedwetting—or nocturnal enuresis—is less common in girls than in boys. However, adult women are far more likely than adult men to experience UI because of anatomical differences in the pelvic region and the changes induced by pregnancy and childbirth. Nevertheless, many men do suffer from incontinence. Its prevalence increases with age, but UI is not an inevitable part of aging.

UI is a treatable problem. To find a treatment that addresses the root of the problem, you need to talk with your health care provider. The three forms of UI are:

  • stress incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine during actions—such as coughing, sneezing, and lifting—that put abdominal pressure on the bladder
  • urge incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine following an overwhelming urge to urinate that cannot be halted
  • overflow incontinence, which is the constant dribbling of urine usually associated with urinating frequently and in small amounts

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