What is Incontinence?

Having urinary control relies on the intricate coordination of muscle tissue of the bladder and urethra, skeletal muscle, voluntary inhibition, and the autonomic nervous system. A problem in any of these areas can result in involuntary loss of urine, known as urinary incontinence.  There are several types of incontinence, including:

  • Stress: loss of bladder control upon sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc.
  • Urge: loss of urine with a feeling of urgency to urinate; involuntary contraction of the bladder also occurs
  • Mixed: a combination of stress and urge incontinence
  • Overflow: the bladder never completely empties; constantly dripping urine
  • Reflex: occurs when a person sustains an injury to their nervous system
  • Total: continuous leaking, day and night
  • Nocturnal enuresis: nighttime bed-wetting

Incontinence is classified into two basic groups, and can be caused by a number of factors. It can also be caused by diseases, such as spina bifida or multiple sclerosis.

The first classification group is known as acute incontinence, which is most often caused by the following:

  • Limited mobility
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Side effects of medications
  • Pregnancy & childbirth
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine and/or alcohol
  • Drinking too much or not enough water
  • Constipation

The second classification group is known as chronic incontinence, which is most often caused by the following:

  • Weak bladder or pelvic floor muscles
  • Injuries to the brain or spinal cord
  • Birth defects
  • A blocked urethra
  • Vaginal prolapse
  • Pregnancy & childbirth
  • Hormonal changes following menopause
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Bladder cancer
  • Neurological disorders
  • Obstruction caused by a mass or tumor


There are many treatments available for incontinence, both surgical and non-surgical. Specialized testing will provide extensive evaluation and insight into further treatment. You may be asked to maintain a diary for a period of time, keeping track of fluid intake and bladder emptying.

Incontinence may also be managed by making changes to your lifestyle. Your doctor may recommend daily Kegel exercises, dietary and/or medication changes, smoking cessation (as nicotine can irritate the bladder), and changes to your bathroom habits.