What There is to Know About the 5 Types of Urinary Incontinence

types of incontinence

If you suffer from urinary incontinence, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans, both men and women, suffer from this problem. 

For the most part, anyone (at any age) can experience urinary incontinence. However, the problem is significantly more common in women. This is due to the urethra being shorter, in addition to the likelihood of childbirth weakening the muscular support of the bladder and urethra. On top of that, 50 percent of people suffering with the condition do not seek help. 

There are five types of incontinence categorized by the cause and severity of symptoms within the urinary tract. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of urinary incontinence, along with the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of each. 

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is defined as the sudden need to urinate. 

This is the type of incontinence that makes you feel as if you have to go right this second, even if you felt fine just moments before. With urge incontinence, the feeling of needing to urinate is impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, many people don’t always make it to the bathroom in time. Because of this, urge incontinence can make daily life difficult. Having to constantly go at a moment’s notice can be stressful and limiting, sometimes leading to embarrassing leaks and accidents. 

A common cause of urge incontinence is due to a miscommunication between your bladder and your brain. The bladder incorrectly tells the brain that it’s full and needs to be emptied. Pregnancy and childbirth are common causes of urge incontinence. Menopause, pelvic trauma, and neurological diseases (such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis) can also be the culprit behind urge incontinence. 

Treatment options include biofeedback therapy, which is the process of gaining awareness of your body’s physiological responses. The goal is to be able to control the bladder muscles and decrease the sense of urgency to urinate. Various muscle exercises, such as kegels, can also build strength of the urinary muscles to improve urges. Additionally, medications such as alpha blockers, anticholinergics, Mirabegron, and topical estrogen can be used to treat this specific type of incontinence.

Did you know: Kegel exercises can help fight the effects of erectile dysfunction as well as symptoms of overactive bladder in women.

Stress Incontinence

If you experience urinary leakage when you laugh, cough, or sneeze, you most likely suffer from stress incontinence. Luckily, stress incontinence doesn’t always lead to an accident.

Women who have given birth or are pregnant also get this type of incontinence due to pressure or damage to the urinary system. Pelvic trauma is another common cause that can make it difficult for you to hold your urine. 

This form of incontinence typically involves weakened muscles around the bladder and urethra. Because these muscles are so compromised, forceful physical stress on the body can cause urinary leakage. 

Perform kegel exercises or pelvic muscle exercises on a routine basis to help avoid this issue. Watching your fluid intake is also important, especially if you know you will be exercising or performing some type of physical activity. 

Mixed Incontinence

Those who suffer from mixed incontinence are dealing with both urge and stress incontinence. So they have urgency and some leakage happening when physically forced. 

Dealing with both types is actually quite common, and not usually a cause for concern. If you are experiencing both, you are likely dealing with a weak pelvic floor along with other health concerns. Working with a urologist to determine the cause of this issue can help you regain control of your bladder. 

Botox injections can actually help patients with mixed incontinence find relief from symptoms. On the other hand, medications such as oxybutynin, tolterodine, and darifenacin may also be recommended. 

Functional Incontinence

Functional incontinence is urine leakage not associated with any health concerns occuring with the urinary system.

Most commonly seen in those with a physical or cognitive impairment, this type can range from small leaks to a full emptying of the bladder. Mental health issues and disabilities are some of the most documented causes. This type of incontinence is generally associated with the elderly.

Treatment includes improving your overall physical and mental function so you can independently go to the bathroom. This may be best achieved by a nursing aid or other types of assistance that can help with bathroom reminders.

Overflow Incontinence

A frequent and unsteady stream of urine usually points to overflow incontinence

If you have difficulty urinating, or cannot urinate fully, your bladder will likely be full most of the time. As the kidneys continuously produce urine, the excess liquid literally overflows and exits your body through the urethra. 

Unlike stress incontinence, overflow incontinence can happen without warning. All too often, patients with this type also suffer from frequent urinary tract infections. Urine that remains in the bladder for long periods of time creates the ideal environment for bacteria to grow. 

This type of incontinence is more likely in men, especially those with an enlarged prostate. If this is the cause, treatment for an enlarged prostate will be required first and foremost. Options for improving overflow include blockage removal, catheter placement, and certain medications. 

Along with these treatments, kegels and pelvic muscle exercises can potentially make a difference, too.

Overcoming All Types of Urinary Incontinence

Don’t live with incontinence because you think nothing can be done! 

While not all types of incontinence can be reversed, closely working with a urologist can help you manage your symptoms. The main goal of helping patients with urinary leakage is to help them find comfort and relief from urinary leakage. Since these conditions can be stressful to deal with, scheduling an appointment with a specialist will provide you with expert care.

Although your risk for incontinence increases as you age, it is not a direct result of aging. You should explore different treatment options for your type of incontinence with your urologist. 

To give you an idea of what to expect from a Urology Specialist appointment, check out our guide, Steps to Prepare for Your Upcoming Urology Specialists Appointment. This comprehensive guide breaks down how to prepare for your upcoming appointment. You will also learn what questions you should be asking your urologist so you can be confident and prepare for the next steps. Access your guide by clicking the button below. 

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This post was originally published in 2015 and was refreshed in 2020.