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Urinary incontinence

Definition

Urinary (or bladder) incontinence happens 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 three main types of urinary incontinence are:

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.

Alternative Names

Loss of bladder control; Uncontrollable urination; Urination - uncontrollable; Incontinence - urinary

Causes

Causes of urinary incontinence include:

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:

Causes that may be more long-term:

Home Care

If you have symptoms of incontinence, see your health care provider for tests and a treatment plan. Which treatment you get depends on what caused your incontinence and what type you have.

There are four main treatment approaches for urinary incontinence:

Lifestyle changes. These changes may help improve incontinence. You may need to make these changes along with other treatments.

For urine leaks, wear absorbent pads or undergarments. There are many well-designed products no one else will notice.

Bladder training and pelvic floor exercises. Bladder retraining helps you gain better control over your bladder. Kegel exercises can help strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor. Your provider can show you how to do them. Many women do not do these exercises correctly, even if they believe they are doing them correctly. Often, people benefit from formal bladder strengthening and retraining with a pelvic floor specialist.

Medicines. Depending on the type of incontinence you have, your health care provider may prescribe one or more medicines. These drugs help prevent muscle spasms, relax the bladder, and improve bladder function. Your provider can help you learn how to take these medicines and manage their side effects.

Surgery. If other treatments do not work, or you have severe incontinence, your provider may recommend surgery. The type of surgery you have will depend on:

If you have overflow incontinence or you cannot fully empty your bladder, you may need to use a catheter. You may use a catheter  that stays in long term, or one that you are taught to put in and take out yourself.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Talk to your health care provider about incontinence. Health care 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:

Call your health care provider if you have:

References

Deng DY. Urinary incontinence in women. Med Clin North Am. 2011;95:101-109.

Gerber GS, Brendler CB. Evaluation of the urologic patient: History, physical examination, and urinalysis. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Novick AC, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 3.

Resnick NM. Incontinence. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 25.



Review Date: 12/2/2014
Reviewed By: Jennifer Sobol, DO, Urologist with the Michigan Institute of Urology, West Bloomfield, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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