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Types of Incontinence

When you’re incontinent, you can’t always control the release of urine. You may leak urine. Or you may not be able to “hold” your urine when you can’t get to a bathroom. This happens because certain parts of the urinary system are not working right.

Cutaway view of bladder

Stress Incontinence

If you have stress incontinence, urine leaks out of the bladder during activity. Stress incontinence may occur temporarily in men after prostate surgery. It may also occur because the sphincter muscle is weak. Symptoms of stress incontinence include leakage when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or lift something heavy.

Cutaway view of bladder

Urge Incontinence

If you have urge incontinence, your bladder feels full and pushes urine out, even when it’s almost empty. An infection in your urinary tract, a nerve problem, surgery, or a growth in the bladder may be the cause. The main symptom is a frequent, sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate. Urge incontinence is often referred to as an “overactive bladder.”

Mixed Incontinence

If you have mixed incontinence, you have more than one type of incontinence occurring at the same time.

Overflow Incontinence

If you have overflow incontinence, the bladder doesn’t empty normally and becomes very full. Urine may dribble out of the bladder frequently in small amounts. It may happen if something blocks the bladder opening or the urethra, or if nerve or muscle problems keep the bladder from contracting. You may need to urinate often, and your urine may trickle instead of flowing freely. The bladder may also never feel completely empty

What Is Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI)?

Do you sometimes leak urine when you cough or sneeze? If so, your doctor may have told you that you have stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Stress urinary incontinence may occur when the structures that help hold urine in your bladder become weak.

The Symptoms of SUI

If you have SUI, you may leak urine when you:

  • Cough, sneeze, or laugh

  • Lift something heavy

  • Exercise

  • Get up from a bed or chair

Normal Urine Control
Strong pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue, and a strong urethral sphincter, help keep urine in the bladder.

The bladder holds urine until you are ready to let it flow out. These structures help:

  • The pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue help hold the pelvic organs in place. When the muscles and connective tissue are strong, the urethra and bladder are well supported. This helps keep the urethra closed, so urine doesn’t leak.

  • The urethral sphincter is a band of muscles around the urethra. When these muscles are strong, they keep urine in the bladder. These muscles relax when you want urine to flow out.

Weak or torn pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue, or a weak urethral sphincter, can let urine leak out of the bladder.

If Urine Leaks Out

The pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue may stretch, weaken, or tear. Weak or torn structures can’t support the urethra and bladder. The urethral sphincter may also weaken. These changes can cause urine to leak. The changes may be caused by:

  • Pregnancy and vaginal childbirth

  • Constant coughing (such as with bronchitis)

  • Being overweight

  • Aging

© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.