Men are more likely to develop overflow incontinence. This type of urinary incontinence causes a constant urine leak or dribble. Urinary retention due to a bladder obstruction, enlarged prostate or other problem can cause the bladder to get too full and overflow. Treatments include bladder training, medications and catheterization.
Your bladder is an organ in your urinary system that holds urine. Overflow incontinence occurs when you leak or dribble urine because your bladder is too full. Some people experience overflow incontinence because they can’t empty their bladder all the way when they pee.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
As many as 1 in 3 Americans have some type of urinary incontinence that causes them to leak urine uncontrollably. Urinary incontinence, in general, more commonly affects women. But overflow incontinence tends to affect more men.
Overflow incontinence is a rare type of urinary incontinence. More common types of urinary incontinence include:
Men with prostate issues are most likely to develop overflow incontinence related to prostate problems. Conditions like an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) or prostate cancer can block the urethra, allowing only small amounts of urine to come out when you pee. After prostate cancer surgery, radiation or other surgery on the urethra, you can develop scar tissue that causes a blockage, called a stricture. If you don’t fully empty your bladder, the half-empty bladder fills again quickly. When it gets full, you can leak urine.
People with diabetes, nerve damage and spinal cord injuries are also more prone to overflow incontinence.
Signs of overflow incontinence include:
Your healthcare provider does a physical exam, which may include a pelvic exam or a rectal prostate exam, depending on your gender. Your healthcare provider may ask you to keep a bladder diary to track your fluid intake, bathroom use and urine leakage for two to three days.
Tests for overflow incontinence include:
These steps may improve overflow incontinence:
Treatments for overflow incontinence depend on the reason you’re not emptying your bladder and include:
People with overflow incontinence leak small amounts of urine, but the leaks are constant. They can result in a loss of a large volume of urine by the end of the day.
Adult diapers and absorbent urinary pads can catch these dribbles. But you may worry about an odor or how the products look under your clothes. You may become self-conscious about going out in public, leading to isolation, anxiety and depression. Constant skin exposure to urine can also lead to skin rashes and sores.
Importantly, when your bladder doesn’t empty completely to flush all the urine out, you’re at risk of developing urinary tract infections, including bladder, prostate and kidney infections. The excess urine sitting in your bladder can also develop bladder stones, which can cause infection and irritation.
Also, the higher pressure in your bladder from a constantly full bladder can transmit up to your kidneys and result in kidney damage.
Steps like bladder training and double voiding can prevent an overfull bladder from causing leaks. You can also do pelvic floor exercises daily. These exercises strengthen the muscles that support your bladder and urinary system.
Many people with overflow incontinence see symptom improvement after treating conditions that cause urinary retention. It’s only in rare instances that people need catheterization.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Overflow incontinence can be a life-disrupting problem. The constant dribbling of urine can make you self-conscious about odors and make you afraid to be too far from a bathroom. Leaking urine isn’t a natural part of aging, though, and treatments can help. Your healthcare provider can identify and treat the cause of your urinary retention. With appropriate therapies, overflow incontinence may go away or improve significantly so that you can get out and enjoy life again.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/05/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.