Functional incontinence is when you lose control of your bladder, usually because of another health condition. However, physical obstacles that prevent you from getting to the bathroom on time can also cause functional incontinence. Treatment includes treating its cause, controlling leaks or making it easier to reach the bathroom.
Functional incontinence is a type of urinary incontinence in which you lose control of your bladder, usually because another condition makes it difficult to get to a bathroom in time or prevents you from recognizing that you need to pee.
Another name for functional incontinence is functional urinary incontinence.
In general, urinary incontinence is common. About 30 million people in the United States have some type of urinary incontinence, which may include functional incontinence.
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Signs of functional incontinence may include:
There are many possible causes of functional incontinence. Some causes include:
You’re at a greater risk of functional incontinence if you:
A healthcare provider can diagnose functional incontinence. They’ll perform a physical examination and ask questions, which may include:
They may also order tests to help determine the cause of your functional incontinence.
Your healthcare provider may order or perform the following tests to help confirm their diagnosis or determine the cause of your functional incontinence:
Your provider may also refer you to a doctor who specializes in conditions that affect your urinary tract and reproductive system (urologist) or a doctor who treats women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) with pelvic floor dysfunction (urogynecologist).
Reducing or treating functional incontinence depends on its cause.
For example, if arthritis makes it difficult or painful to unbutton or unzip clothing, it’s a good idea to wear clothes that are easy to take off. If you have a UTI, a healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria. If medications cause functional incontinence, ask your provider if there are alternative medicines you can take.
Other treatments that may help reduce functional incontinence include:
When you’re at home, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a clear path to the bathroom. Make sure the doors are open and clean up any clutter that could slow you down or make you trip. If you have trouble seeing, install extra lights around your house or carry a small flashlight in your pocket. If you’re in public, note where the bathrooms are before you need to pee.
You can’t prevent the muscular, neurological or cognitive conditions that may cause functional incontinence.
If you have a chronic (long-lasting) condition that causes functional incontinence, you may have functional incontinence for the rest of your life. In these cases, talk to a healthcare provider about the best ways to manage your symptoms.
The following tips can help you take care of yourself if you have functional incontinence:
Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider as soon as you develop symptoms of functional incontinence. They can help you determine its cause and help avoid accidental leaks.
There are many different types of urinary incontinence, including functional incontinence. Some other types of urinary incontinence include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Functional incontinence can interrupt your life. Even though it’s common, it can make you feel self-conscious or embarrassed. You may even refrain from participating in your everyday activities because you’re afraid you can’t get to a bathroom quickly. Talk to a healthcare provider if you or a loved one have signs of functional incontinence. They can help identify the cause and recommend ways to control or prevent leaks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/28/2023.
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