There are several types of urinary incontinence and the causes vary depending on the type.
Temporary incontinence can be caused by:
Unavailability of a restroom
Many medications can cause urinary problems. The effect is usually due to a common side effect of blood pressure pills, sleeping pills, indigestion remedies, and antidepressants. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are suffering from incontinence and are taking any type of medication.
More permanent incontinence may be classified as one of the following four types. Some people have a mixture of these types. In some cases, incontinence may have several different causes; sometimes the cause is unclear.
Stress incontinence results when certain activities increase pressure on the bladder. Leaking can be triggered by laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise. This is the most common type of incontinence and may be caused by:
Weakening of the muscles that support the bladder
Weakening of the muscle sphincter that controls the flow of urine
Urge incontinence is loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. You are unable to hold urine long enough to make it to the bathroom. This is also known as overactive bladder. It may be caused by:
Urinary tract infection
Nerve damage due to:
Spinal cord injury
Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder is full. The increased pressure generated by an over-full bladder exceeds the strength of the valve holding urine in. It may be caused by:
A bladder outlet that is obstructed
Weak muscles in the bladder's outlet valve
Nerve damage due to:
Spinal cord injuries
When nerve controls to your bladder are absent, as in spinal cord injury, the bladder will empty spontaneously when it reaches a certain volume. This is called a neurogenic bladder. If you have this condition, you will learn how to drain urine periodically or permanently with a catheter (tube) inserted directly into your bladder.
Your bladder control may be perfectly normal, but any mental or physical condition that slows you down or confines you may result in inappropriate loss of urine. This is called functional incontinence.
Other Causesof Incontinence
Occasionally an abnormal channel (fistulae) opens between the bladder and the outside world. It can be a birth defect, a result of injury, ormost commonlya complication of surgery in that region. Fistulae cause continuous, uncontrolled urine dribbling and can be surgically repaired.
American Urological Foundation website. Available at: http://www.auafoundation.org/ .
Harrisons Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.
Last reviewed June 2007 by Miguel Antelo, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.