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What are the 4 types of incontinence? 

Jan 27, 2020 | incontinence

What are the 4 types of incontinence? 

According to the National Institutes of Health, urinary incontinence is a common problem affecting between 3 and 17 percent of women and 3 and 11 percent of men. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that number can jump to 50 percent in women and 25 percent in men once they reach the senior years. It’s a common misconception among patients that all urinary incontinence is the same, or that it is just a normal part of aging. It can be a very bothersome problem which does have solutions!

urinary incontinence small changes

However, four distinct types exist that each occurs from different causes and affects people in unique ways. We outline the four primary types of urinary incontinence below.


Stress Incontinence


This type of urine leakage frequently occurs with certain activities or physical movements. Common examples include:


  • Coughing
  • Getting out of a car
  • Exercise
  • Heavy lifting
  • Laughing
  • Sex
  • Sneezing
  • Standing up


The term stress incontinence has no relationship to any psychological stress you may be feeling. It’s also important to understand that you may not leak urine every time you engage in one of these activities. You’re most at risk of experiencing stress incontinence when your bladder is full and you put pressure on it, whether that pressure is intentional or not. This type of incontinence commonly affects women in the years after giving birth to children.


Urge Incontinence


The most typical symptom with urge incontinence is the sudden onset of pressure in your bladder indicating that you need to empty it right away. With this condition, the muscles of the bladder don’t work as they should. This can cause leaking in addition to the strong urge to urinate. Common causes of urge incontinence include:


  • Enlarged prostate
  • Bladder infection
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Bladder cancer
  • Bladder stones
  • Idiopathic (which means we can’t put a finger on why it’s happening to you, but it is bothersome still!)

Less commonly

  • Nervous system diseases such as multiple sclerosis
  • Nervous system injuries such as stroke or spinal cord trauma
  • Bladder cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Interstitial cystitis (a chronic bladder inflammatory condition)


Overflow Incontinence


People with overflow incontinence usually have no trouble recognizing the need to urinate or getting to the bathroom on time. Their main problem is that they cannot empty their bladder completely when urinating. These patients usually walk around with their bladders already full almost to capacity, like a person carrying a coffee filled to the brim, occasionally small amounts leak out. Many patients and urologists refer to this problem as urine dribbling. Other common issues with overflow incontinence include getting up often at night to use the toilet, difficulty starting the urine stream, a weak urine stream, and frequent bladder infections.

This type of incontinence is more common in men than in women. Typical causes include:


  • Enlarged Prostate
  • Effects of certain medications
  • History of pelvic surgery
  • Prolapse of the bladder or weakening of the pelvic floor in women


Functional Incontinence


When you have functional incontinence, you may not always realize that you need to use the bathroom. Even when you do recognize the urge, you may not understand how to get yourself into the best position on the toilet or even where to find one. The most common causes of this type of urinary incontinence include:


  • Dementia, intellectual disabilities, or other cognitive issues
  • Environmental barriers that prevent finding a restroom or getting to one on time
  • Muscular limitations such as arthritis
  • Neurological limitations such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Poor vision
  • Psychological issues such as severe anxiety


Of all incontinence types, people with functional incontinence are most likely to have a serious medical condition. It’s also most common among the aging population that may already struggle with memory and mobility issues.

Regardless of which type of urinary incontinence you suspect you have, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with a urologist. This is a medical doctor specializing in dysfunction and disease of the urinary system. He or she will work with you to find the best possible way of improving your urinary health, in a patient-centric model. Treatment possibilities include medication, at-home exercises, lifestyle changes, or occasionally surgery or procedures when other methods fail to bring adequate relief.

Contact us today. We would love to help.

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