Urinary Incontinence—FemaleEn Español (Spanish Version)More InDepth Information on This Condition
Urinary incontinence is the loss of voluntary bladder control leading to urine leakage. It can be temporary or last for a long time. Incontinence is a symptom, not a condition.
Temporary incontinence can be caused by:
Permanent urinary incontinence may be one of four types. Some people have a mixture of these types.
This is the most common type of incontinence. It may be caused by:
- Weakening of muscles that suspend the bladder
- Weakening of muscles that control urine flow
Muscles Involved in Incontinence in Women
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This is also known as overactive bladder. It may be caused or worsened by:
This occurs when the bladder will not empty. Urine builds up and the bladder overflows. This leads to leaking of urine. It may be caused by:
- A bladder that is blocked, such as by a scar in the urethra (stricture)
- Fecal impaction
- Drugs (such as antidepressants, hypnotics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, calcium channel blockers)
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Weak bladder muscles
Nerve damage due to:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Other factors
This occurs when you have normal bladder control, but you can't reach the toilet in time. It may be caused by medical conditions like severe
. Drugs that cause confusion or sedation can also cause functional incontinence.
Some incontinence may be caused by a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal opening between the bladder and outside.
Incontinence has several different causes. The cause could also be unclear.
Risk factors include:
Urinary incontinence is a symptom of other conditions. Any loss of bladder control can be considered incontinence.
Stress incontinence is when certain activities lead to increased pressure on the bladder. Triggers may be laughing, sneezing,
lifting heavy objects, or exercise.
Urge incontinence is a loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. The bladder is unable to hold urine long enough to make it to a restroom.
Call your doctor if you have a loss of urine control. Your doctor can help you determine the underlying cause.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will be asked how often you empty your bladder, and about patterns of urine leakage. Your doctor will do a physical exam to look for any physical causes. These include blockages and nerve problems.
Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of your urination habits. You may be referred to an urologist or an urogynecologist.
Tests to help determine a cause may include:
- Stress test—you relax then cough as your doctor watches for loss of urine (this will confirm if you have stress incontinence)
- Urine tests
- Blood tests to detect diabetes
- Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine structures inside the body to determine the residual urine volume after voiding
- Cystoscopy—a thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted into the urethra to view the urethra and bladder
- Urodynamic tests—tests that measure the flow of urine and pressure in the bladder
Treatments may include:
Behavioral therapy includes:
Making muscles stronger by:
- Kegel exercises—These strengthen the muscles that hold the bladder in place and those that control urine flow.
- Painless electrical stimulation—This may strengthen the muscles more quickly and is helpful for stress incontinence.
- Pelvic floor exercises using cone-shaped weights that are placed in the vagina.
- Bladder training—Setting a regular, timed schedule for emptying your bladder. You may also be asked to drink fewer liquids.
- Biofeedback—When doing pelvic floor muscle exercises, a device signals how strong you are at contracting your muscles.
If you are a woman who is overweight or
obese, losing weight may help reduce the number of episodes due to stress or urge incontinence. Talk to your doctor about a
weight loss program
that is right for you.
Medicines called anticholinergics may be prescribed to relax the bladder muscles. They are often used in treating urge incontinence.
Nerve stimulation is effective for urge urinary incontinence. It can be done by stimulating a nerve in your ankle. Or, it can be done by implanting a device that stimulates the bladder nerves.
In women, surgery can support weakened muscles related to bladder function. One type of surgery is called a
. Other procedures involve collagen injections into the urethra.
Absorbent diapers are often used with incontinence.
Plugs and patches that hold urine in place are available for women.
are sometimes used to treat more severe cases.
A supportive device called a pessary may also be used in women.
Pessaries are devices that raise the uterus or the prolapsed bladder. It can decrease pressure on the bladder.
- Take care of your skin by gently cleaning yourself after an episode of incontinence. Let the skin air dry.
- Make it easier to get to the bathroom. For example, rearrange furniture and remove throw rugs. Add night lights in the hallway and in the bathroom.
- If needed, keep a bedpan handy in your bedroom.
Incontinence is really a symptom of many other conditions. There are several ways to prevent incontinence:
- If advised by your doctor, do exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, such as Kegel exercises. This is especially important if you are pregnant.
- Reduce your intake of substances that lead to incontinence (such as caffeine, alcohol, and certain drugs).
- Lose weight, if needed.
- Eat a healthy diet to avoid constipation.
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Last Reviewed September 2012