Urge incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence that causes an urgent, uncontrollable need to pee several times during the day and night. You may leak urine before you get to the bathroom. An overactive bladder causes urge incontinence. Pelvic floor exercises and other therapies like Botox and nerve stimulation can help.
Urge incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence that causes a sudden, urgent need to pee. You may accidentally leak urine (pee) before you make it to the bathroom. Some people pee more than eight times a day, as well as several times during the night.
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Approximately 40% of people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and 30% of people assigned male at birth (AMAB) experience urge incontinence at some point.
There are different types of urinary incontinence. All of them cause you to leak urine.
An overactive bladder causes your muscles in your bladder to squeeze (contract) more often than they should. This makes you feel like you have to pee before your bladder is actually full.
The squeezed bladder also causes your sphincter muscle inside your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body) to relax. When this muscle opens, it lets urine leak out.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop urinary incontinence. Although the problem becomes more common with age, healthcare providers don’t consider incontinence a normal part of aging. That means you may be able to find ways to treat it.
Risk factors for urge incontinence include:
An urgent, uncontrollable need to pee is the top sign of urge incontinence. You may or may not leak urine. If you do have urine leaks, the amount tends to be larger than with other types of urinary incontinence.
Other signs of urge incontinence include:
It’s possible you’ve had mild symptoms for a while. Over time, symptoms from an overactive bladder can get worse and become more noticeable. If your incontinence came on after a recent medical procedure, injury or the start of a new medication, contact your healthcare provider. A nerve injury or another problem may be causing the incontinence.
You’ll get a physical exam, which may include a pelvic exam or a rectal prostate exam. To help your healthcare provider make an accurate diagnosis, you might keep a bladder diary for two to three days, where you write down your fluid intake, bathroom use and urine leakage, including what you were doing when the leaks occurred.
Tests for urge incontinence include:
Yes, pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) can strengthen your muscles that support your urinary system. These exercises can improve symptoms.
It’s important to target and use the correct muscles (which is more difficult than you might think). A physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor disorders can teach you the proper technique. This healthcare provider may use biofeedback to ensure you get the most benefit from the exercises. It can take four to six weeks to see improvements.
While some people need to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, others have spasm or excess tension in the pelvic floor muscles that can make their overactive bladder worse. In this case, you can work with a pelvic floor physical therapist on relaxing and coordinating these muscles.
Other steps you can take to ease urge incontinence:
If pelvic floor exercises and other techniques don’t help, your healthcare provider may recommend one of these treatments:
Urge incontinence can affect your mental health. Some people with severe urge incontinence may be afraid to go out in public. They may worry about being too far from a restroom for fear of an accident. These worries may increase your risk of anxiety and depression.
Because urge incontinence causes you to leak a lot of urine, you may want to wear adult diapers or absorbent urinary pads until treatments take effect. Unfortunately, constant exposure to urine can lead to skin rashes and sores.
The same natural steps that treat urge incontinence can also help prevent it. For instance:
At-home therapies like pelvic floor exercises can help reduce urge incontinence. Usually, people who receive needed treatments like medications or nerve stimulation get symptom relief.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
Without treatment and other changes, urge continence can get worse. You may find yourself going to the bathroom even more often or leaking larger amounts of urine. These problems are more likely if you gain a lot of weight, smoke or don’t change dietary habits.
Urge incontinence and stress incontinence have different causes and symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Leaking urine for any reason isn’t an unavoidable part of aging, so don’t be embarrassed to talk to your healthcare provider. Treatments can help. You can learn pelvic floor exercises and use biofeedback to improve urge incontinence symptoms. If needed, you can try medications or nerve stimulation, too. With proper therapies, you can treat urge incontinence, regain the ability to regulate your bladder and enjoy life more.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/05/2021.
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