Urinary Incontinence

What is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is characterized by involuntary urination. It can be slight and seldom, or it can be a continual problem. In severe cases, simply waiting too long can result in accidental wetting. Loss of bladder control more often affects females than males, and it is also more likely to occur with age.

The system that regulates urinary function is complex, and incontinence may be a result of an underlying condition.

What are the Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence does not have symptoms beyond the central problem, but the possible reasons and causes are numerous.

The five types of urinary incontinence include:


  • Accidental leakage accompanied by extreme urgency


  • Coughing
  • Laughing
  • Sneezing
  • Exercising
  • Standing up
  • Stair climbing
  • Other physical activities


  • Waiting too long to find a bathroom


  • Neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis)
  • Illness
  • Sphincter weakness
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Urinary tract obstruction
  • Obesity
  • Certain drinks, especially those containing alcohol or caffeine
  • Certain foods (e.g. spicy dishes, citrus fruits)
  • Large amounts of vitamins C or B
  • Prostate gland conditions
  • Prostate gland treatments
  • Certain medications
  • Abnormal bladder muscle
  • Hormonal changes
  • Uterine weight during pregnancy
  • Vaginal childbirth
  • Hysterectomy
  • Stool impaction
  • A combination of the aforementioned types

Each of these types results in either minor leakage or wet garments. It can vary in frequency from occasionally to often.

Urinary Incontinence Causes

Urinary incontinence is often experienced by women during pregnancy and after childbirth. This is because the growing baby puts increased pressure on the pelvic floor muscles which control bladder function. These muscles are further strained after vaginal delivery, which makes them weak. Sometimes urinary incontinence does not occur until many years after having children as the pelvic muscles, which have already been weakened to a certain extent, lose tone and volume as a natural side effect of aging and menopause.

In both men and women, there are many other possible causes of urinary incontinence.

Causes include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Chronic coughing, which puts pressure on the pelvic floor
  • Chronic constipation, which causes straining and puts pressure on the pelvic floor
  • Obesity, which puts pressure on the pelvic floor
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine, which are diuretics
  • Prostate cancer or infections of the prostate
  • Bladder cancer

How is Urinary Incontinence Treated?

Urinary incontinence treatments are determined by type.

Treatments include:

  • Treatment of underlying condition(s)
  • Surgical correction
  • Bladder strengthening exercises
  • Habit changes
  • Electronic stimulation
  • Medication
  • Remedial devices
  • Bladder, nerve and urethra therapies
  • Catherization
  • Protective pads and clothing

When urinary incontinence is ignored it can result in skin irritation and infections, and it can prevent those with the condition from living life to the fullest.

Urinary Incontinence Prevention

Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles by doing daily Kegel exercises may help to prevent urinary incontinence, particularly for women who are pregnant or have had children. Maintaining a healthy weight will also help to keep the pelvic floor strong.

Smoking can contribute to pelvic floor weakness, and it can cause a chronic cough which will put added strain on the pelvic floor muscles. Quitting smoking is therefore advisable to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.

Since chronic constipation can lead to pelvic floor weakness and therefore incontinence, it’s important to consume a plenty of fiber and drink lots of water. Both of these will help stools to maintain a soft texture in order that they can be passed with ease.

Finally, it might be helpful to avoid drinking things which could irritate the bladder and cause a sudden urge to urinate. This includes alcohol, tea, coffee and sodas like cola which are diuretics.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017