Incontinence FAQ

  • Can urinary incontinence be temporary?

    Yes, temporary incontinence is referred to as “transient incontinence,” because the symptoms are circumstantial and short-lived. The most common causes of transient incontinence are:

    If you think your transient incontinence may be caused by a routine medication, then contact your doctor to discuss alternative treatment.

  • What are the different types of incontinence?

    Urge incontinence or overactive bladder causes a sudden and strong urge to urinate, making it difficult to reach a bathroom in time. It’s typically caused by an injury to the nerves or muscles that control urinary flow. Some medical conditions, such as bladder infections, bladder inflammation, or an enlarged prostate can also cause urge incontinence.

    Stress incontinence results in bladder leakage whenever pressure or stress is placed on the bladder. Symptoms occur if a person is overweight or pregnant, sneezes, or lifts heavy objects. Even heavy exercise and some medical conditions are known to cause stress incontinence.

    Overflow incontinence causes bladder leakage throughout the day and night and is more common in men than women. Those who experience overflow incontinence are unable to completely empty their bladder, which leads to overflow and unexpected leaks. It’s usually difficult for individuals to sense their bladder is full. The unemptied bladder breeds bacteria and leads to frequent urinary tract infections. The most common cause of overflow incontinence in men is an enlarged prostate.

    Functional incontinence is diagnosed when a person’s urinary tract is in working order, but other illnesses or disabilities such as dementia, mental illness, or even arthritis keep the individual from using the bathroom when necessary. Sometimes, medications like diuretics can cause functional incontinence. The Simon Foundation for Continence offers tips and management techniques for this condition.

    Mixed incontinence is simply the combination of two types of urinary incontinence, typically urge and stress incontinence.

    The term total incontinence is used when a person has no control over the bladder and experiences constant urine leakage.

    Bowel incontinence causes stool or gas to leak unexpectedly, or the urgency keeps a person from getting to the bathroom in time. Typical causes are an injury, childbirth complications, certain health conditions, and some medications.

  • Should I tell my doctor about my continence problems?

    It’s always best to tell your doctor about all your incontinence symptoms. If your incontinence is transient, a change in medication could alleviate bladder or bowel leakage. Additionally, your incontinence could signal an underlying health condition that needs attention. It’s also important that you receive your doctor’s advice for possible treatment or symptom management.

  • What causes persistent urinary incontinence?

    For women, childbirth, specifically vaginal delivery, can damage bladder nerves and supportive tissue, causing a prolapsed pelvic floor that pushes the bladder, rectum, or other anatomy out of place, leading to incontinence. A hysterectomy can also damage pelvic floor nerves, leading to incontinence. Additionally, women going through menopause may experience bladder leakage due to decreasing estrogen that helps maintain a healthy bladder.

    For men, common causes of incontinence are an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) and prostate cancer.

    Age, urinary tract tumors, being overweight, and neurological disorders such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or brain tumor can result in incontinence for both men and women.

  • Do younger people experience incontinence?

    Incontinence is more common in older adults and women but affects men and women of all ages. Women who have had children are more likely to experience incontinence, especially after a vaginal delivery. If you’re still experiencing bladder leakage three to six months after childbirth, it’s important to let your doctor know. For younger men, bladder or bowel leakage is typically a problem due to a medical condition or injury.

  • How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?

    Your doctor may simply ask questions about your symptoms or ask you to keep a bladder diary to track them. Additionally, your doctor or nurse may perform a physical exam or order further testing such as a urine test, ultrasound, bladder stress test, cystoscopy, or even urodynamics.

  • Are there treatments for urinary incontinence?

    Your doctor will first treat any underlying conditions causing your incontinence. Treatments vary depending on the type and severity of your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend behavioral techniques like bladder training (delaying urination) and fluid and diet management. Many doctors encourage patients to strengthen the muscles that control urination by doing Kegel exercises. If these treatments are ineffective, your doctor may prescribe medications or surgery.

  • Can I prevent urinary incontinence?

    It’s not always possible to prevent bladder leakage or urinary incontinence. Prevention largely depends on the underlying cause. However, you can promote bladder health and sometimes prevent future problems by maintaining a healthy weight, doing Kegels, eating more fiber, and quitting smoking. Additionally, it’s helpful to avoid bladder irritants like caffeine acidic foods, and alcohol.

  • What can I do to help my urinary incontinence?

    Many of the same practices that can prevent bladder leakage (see question #8 above) can also improve existing symptoms:

    • Losing weight
    • Doing Kegel exercises
    • Not smoking
    • Treating constipation quickly
    • Avoiding bladder irritants

    Additional ways to improve incontinence symptoms include:

    • Replacing high-impact exercise with Pilates
    • Avoiding lifting as much as possible
    • Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily (but no more)
  • Should I limit my fluid intake?

    It’s best to stick with drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid each day, and most of the fluid should be water. If you limit your fluid intake more than this, you can make your incontinence worse by reducing your bladder’s capacity to hold fluid – and no one wants that! It’s also important to note that reduced fluid intake worsens constipation and could lead to dehydration, which also trigger urinary incontinence.