There are several types of urinary incontinence. The causes vary depending on the type.
Temporary incontinence can be caused by:
- Urinary infection
- Restricted mobility
- Muscle weakness
- Unavailability of a restroom
Many medications can cause urinary problems, including blood pressure pills, sleeping pills, indigestion remedies, and antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you are suffering from incontinence and are taking any type of medication.
More permanent incontinence may be classified as one of the following four types. Some people have a mixture of these types. In some cases, incontinence may have several different causes. Sometimes the cause is unclear.
Stress incontinence results when certain activities increase pressure on the bladder. Leaking can be triggered by laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise. This is the most common type of incontinence and may be caused by:
- Weakening of the muscles that support the bladder
- Weakening of the sphincter muscle that controls the flow of urine
Urge incontinence is loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. You are unable to hold urine long enough to make it to the bathroom. This is also known as overactive bladder. It may be caused by:
Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder is full. The increased pressure generated by an over-full bladder exceeds the strength of the valve holding urine in. It may be caused by:
- A bladder that is blocked, such as by a scar in the urethra
- Fecal impaction
- Drugs such as antidepressants, hypnotics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and calcium channel blockers
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Weak bladder muscles
Nerve damage due to:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Other factors
When nerve controls to your bladder are absent, as in spinal cord injury, the bladder will empty when it reaches a certain volume. This is called a neurogenic bladder. If you have this condition, you will learn how to drain urine periodically or permanently with a tube called a catheter inserted directly into your bladder.
Your bladder control may be perfectly normal, but any mental or physical condition that slows you down or confines you may result in loss of urine. This is called functional incontinence.
Occasionally an abnormal channel called a fistula opens between the bladder and the outside world. It can be a birth defect, a result of injury, or a complication of surgery. Fistulas cause continuous, uncontrolled urine dribbling and can be surgically repaired.
Incontinence. American Urological Association Foundation website. Available at:
Updated March 2013. Accessed November 27, 2013.
Urinary incontinence. American Academy of Family Physicians. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.html. Updated July 2010. Accessed November 27, 2013.
Last reviewed November 2013 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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