Skip To Content

What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the inability to hold urine inside the bladder voluntarily or to prevent leakage or dribbling.

Urine is stored in the bladder until it is eliminated from the body through a tube called the urethra. Urine flow and leakage are normally controlled by sphincter muscles, which tighten and close around the neck of the bladder and urethra.

When urination begins, bladder muscles contract to squeeze urine out of the bladder and sphincter muscles relax to allow the urine to pass. When urination is completed, the bladder relaxes and the sphincter contracts.

Who Does Urinary Incontinence Affect?

Incontinence affects people of all ages, although it is more common in women and older adults.

Embarrassment prevents many people from seeking treatment. However, incontinence is a common medical condition and effective treatment is available in the majority of cases.

Urinary Incontinence Types, Diagnosis, and Causes

The main types of urinary incontinence are stress, urge, and overflow.

Stress incontinence definition and causes

Stress incontinence is the most common form of incontinence. It occurs when the internal sphincter muscles do not close completely around the bladder neck. Activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects apply pressure to a full bladder and cause urine to leak.

Women are more prone to stress incontinence during pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. Prostate surgery and radiation treatment are the primary causes of stress incontinence in men.

Urge incontinence definition and causes

Urge incontinence occurs when an overactive bladder contracts involuntarily and causes urine to leak, sometimes in large amounts. Bladder or prostate infection, bladder cancer, or kidney stone disease can irritate the bladder lining and trigger overactivity.

Neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke, Parkinson's disease, or multiple sclerosis affect communication between the brain and bladder and cause the bladder to contract inappropriately.

Overflow continence definition and causes

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder is allowed to become so full that it simply overflows. When bladder nerves are damaged due to illness or injury, they may not recognise when the bladder is full.

Blockage or narrowing of the bladder outlet by cancer or scar tissue may prevent normal emptying of the bladder. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate) can also cause such blockage. For this reason, overflow incontinence is more common in men than in women.

Urinary Incontinence Treatment Options at UPMC

UPMC provides expert evaluation and treatment of all aspects of male and female urinary incontinence. A wide range of treatments are available, including bladder retraining, exercises, medication, and corrective surgery.

Our Consultants

View our list of urologists who are leaders in the exploration of new and innovative therapies for all types of urinary incontinence.

Contact Us About Urinary Incontinence Treatment at UPMC

If you have concerns about your urologic health or are experiencing symptoms associated with urinary incontinence, visit your GP and ask for a referral to one of our experts located at: