What is Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the loss of bladder control. Symptoms can range from tiny amounts of urine leakage when you cough or sneeze to a sudden, urgent need to urinate and the inability to make it to the restroom in time. Left untreated, UI can become a debilitating condition for some people, making them reluctant to engage in their normal activities, which can lead to social isolation, depression and anxiety. The urology experts at University Hospitals offer a wide range of treatments that can help.
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Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are several types of urinary incontinence, including:
- Stress Incontinence. Urine leakage that occurs when coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting something heavy. These activities exert pressure on the bladder and cause small amounts of urine to be released. This is the most common type of urinary incontinence in women.
- Urge Incontinence. A sudden, frequent and intense urge to urinate, often followed by the involuntary loss of urine. Urge incontinence is more common in older adults and those with certain medical or neurological conditions.
- Mixed Incontinence. A combination of stress and urge incontinence symptoms.
- Overflow Incontinence. A constant or frequent dribbling of urine that may occur if the bladder is over-filled or doesn’t empty completely.
- Functional Incontinence. When bladder control is intact but a functional impairment such as severe arthritis, makes it difficult to get to the restroom in time.
Causes & Risk Factors for Urinary Incontinence in Women
Women are twice as likely as men to experience urinary incontinence. This is most likely due to reproductive health events that are unique to women, including pregnancy and childbirth, which can weaken the muscles and damage the nerves needed for bladder control. In addition, the hormonal changes that occur during and after menopause can affect the health of the bladder and urethra and contribute to incontinence.
Other factors that may increase the risk for urinary incontinence include:
- Age. Although incontinence is not an unavoidable consequence of aging, the bladder muscle can become weaker with age and less able to store and hold urine. Involuntary bladder contractions may also become more frequent, leading to overactive bladder.
- Lifestyle. Certain drinks, foods and medications may act as diuretics – stimulating your bladder and increasing the amount of urine you generate. Excess weight and smoking are also risk factors.
- Urinary tract infections. The unique anatomy of women make urinary tract infections (UTIs) more likely to occur. These infections irritate the bladder and often cause a strong, sometimes uncontrollable need to urinate.
- Neurological disorders. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, a stroke, a brain tumor or a spinal injury can interfere with nerve signals involved in bladder control and contribute to urinary incontinence.
- Family history. If a close family member has urinary incontinence, especially urge incontinence, your risk of developing the condition is higher.