What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the inability to control the passage of urine. Often, embarrassment and the stigma associated with incontinence prevent the person from seeking treatment, even when incontinence threatens his or her quality of life and that of his or her family.

Urinary incontinence can be cured or significantly improved once the underlying cause has been detected. However, it's important to recognize that incontinence is a symptom and not a disease. Its cause may be quite complex and involve many factors. Your doctor should complete an in-depth evaluation before beginning treatment.

What types of urinary incontinence exist?

Two of the most common types of urinary incontinence are urge incontinence and stress incontinence.

Urge incontinence is an urgent desire to void, which is followed by an involuntary loss of urine. This condition can be caused by an "overactive" bladder and is commonly referred as OAB. Normally, strong muscles (sphincters) control the flow of urine from the bladder. The muscles of an "overactive" bladder spasm (contracts) with enough force to override the sphincter muscles of the urethra and allow urine to pass out of the bladder.

Stress incontinence occurs when an activity, such as a cough or sneeze, increases abdominal pressure on the bladder. Typically, a small amount of urine leaks from the urethra. This problem can result from a number of factors, including weak muscles of the pelvic floor, a weak sphincter muscle at the neck of the bladder, or a problem with the way the sphincter muscle opens and closes. Women who have given birth are more likely to have stress incontinence.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/11/2014.


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