Key Points about Urinary Incontinence

  • Urinary incontinence occurs when the bladder leaks urine when you did not intend to urinate.
  • It can result from temporary infections, from underlying illnesses, or from eating certain foods.
  • You may have an increased risk of developing urinary incontinence if you are a woman, if you smoke, if you are obese, if you are older, or if you have a neurological condition.
  • Call your doctor if your incontinence if causing embarrassment or interfering with your daily life.
Common related conditions
Overactive Bladder

Overview

Urinary incontinence is characterized by an inability to control the bladder, and can be momentary or chronic. It can be a symptom of a number of existing diseases, or can result from certain lifestyle factors. Common causes of incontinence include alcohol, certain medications, neurological disorders, pregnancy in women and an enlarged prostate in men.

Treatment for urinary incontinence will depend upon its cause. Your doctor can diagnose the cause of your incontinence, and recommend treatment accordingly. 

Urinary incontinence causes

Urinary incontinence is caused by a weakening of the muscles that keep urine from flowing out of the body. It can result from temporary infections, from underlying illnesses, from age, or from eating certain foods.

Incontinence can be short-term and momentary, or chronic. Causes of temporary incontinence include:

  • Consuming foods and drinks that stimulate the bladder, such as caffeine, alcohol, and foods that are spicy or acidic
  • A urinary tract infection
  • Constipation
  • Pregnancy or childbirth
  • Certain medications
  • Sneezing, laughing, or another action that puts pressure on the bladder

Chronic incontinence is often due to long-term illnesses or changes in the body, such as:

  • Menopause, or a decreased production of estrogen
  • Hysterectomy
  • An enlarged prostate
  • Prostate cancer
  • Impaired bladder function that develops with age
  • Neurological issues
  • Kidney or bladder stones that impact the movement of urine through the body

Urinary incontinence risk factors

You may be more likely to experience incontinence if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are pregnant
  • Are experiencing menopause
  • Are overweight
  • Are elderly
  • Smoke tobacco
  • Have family members who have incontinence
  • Have an existing neurological disorder

Urinary incontinence symptoms

Symptoms of urinary incontinence vary. Depending upon the type and cause of incontinence, you may experience:

  • Frequent leakage of urine from the bladder
  • An unintentional expulsion of urine directly after having a strong need to urinate
  • The leakage of urine while coughing, exercising, or doing some activity that puts pressure on the bladder

Urinary incontinence complications

Urinary incontinence can lead to:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Rashes or sores from constant skin wetness caused by incontinence
  • Embarrassment or interference with the activities of your daily life

Urinary incontinence prevention

You can decrease your risk of developing incontinence by:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Quit smoking if you smoke
  • Practicing Kegel exercises
  • Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine, which can irritate the bladder
  • Increase your intake of dietary fiber

Urinary incontinence diagnosis

When diagnosing urinary incontinence, your doctor will want to identify the type and cause of incontinence. After reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination, your doctor may:

  • Perform a urine analysis to identify any infections
  • Measure how much urine is left in your bladder after you attempt to clear it completely
  • Recommend keeping a journal for a few days to take note of your symptoms and amount of liquid intake

Urinary incontinence treatment

Treatment for urinary incontinence will depend upon its cause.

When to seek care

Set up an appointment with your doctor if your incontinence if interfering with your daily life.

Next Steps

Your doctor can help establish a long-term plan for managing chronic urinary incontinence, including both medical treatments and lifestyle modifications.