Ever laughed so hard you peed? Or maybe you’ve jumped up from your seat too quickly and felt a little trickle down below? Perhaps, you’ve coughed and caught yourself running to the bathroom to empty your bladder. These are all episodes of urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence occurs when you leak urine in any situation where you are not using the restroom. Although, this can feel embarrassing and isolating, it is a fairly common problem, affecting 25 million US adults every day. Bowel incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of fecal matter, affects up to 15% of older women and 10% of older men.
The good news is most cases of incontinence are treatable. Understanding the different types of incontinence can help you know your best path to treatment. Five of the most common types of incontinence are:
- Stress incontinence
- Urge incontinence
- Overflow incontinence
- Bowel incontinence
- Elderly incontinence
What is stress incontinence?
Peeing when coughing is a kind of stress incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when physical activity or movement—like coughing, laughing, jumping, running, sneezing, or heavy lifting—places stress on your bladder and results in the involuntary loss of urine.
What is urge incontinence?
Urge incontinence is the sudden and intense need to go pee, typically felt when you’re waiting in a long line for the restroom or stuck in traffic. If you have urge incontinence, you may wake several times during the night to empty your bladder or feel like you frequently need to visit the restroom throughout the day.
What is overflow incontinence?
Overflow incontinence happens when you are unable to fully empty your bladder when you use the restroom and small amounts of urine leak out later, when your bladder becomes too full. If you have overflow incontinence you may not feel the urge to pee before leaking urine.
What is functional incontinence?
Functional incontinence occurs when you know you have to use the restroom, but for some reason, are unable to hold your bladder until you make it to the bathroom. Urine leakage with functional incontinence can range from a few drops to the full emptying of your bladder.
What is bowel incontinence?
Bowel incontinence, also known as fecal incontinence, happens when fecal matter is involuntarily lost when you are not using the restroom. It is a common problem, especially among older adults, and can range from minimal stool leaks while passing gas to full emptying of the bowel.
What is elderly incontinence?
Elderly incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder or bowels that occurs as adults age. As you age, your muscles—including your bladder—weaken. You are also more likely to develop other health complications that can cause incontinence, like prostate issues or diabetes. Incontinence in both the elderly and younger adults results from a variety of reasons.
Causes of Incontinence
From anatomical reasons to medication, there are several reasons incontinence happens. One of the more common causes of female urinary incontinence? Pregnancy. Men can experience incontinence after a prostatectomy, which is the removal of the prostate gland. Your doctor will be able to help you identify what kind of incontinence you have and what is causing it. Some of the more common causes of incontinence include:
- Weak pelvic muscles – Weak pelvic muscles can both prevent you from emptying your bladder fully and holding in urine or stool when you have a full bladder or bowel. Targeted physical therapy exercises can help strengthen your pelvic muscles and resolve incontinence caused by this reason.
- Medication – Medications like sleeping pills, anxiety-reducing drugs, or muscle relaxers, can all interfere with your ability to maintain control of your bladder or bowels. Often, a change in medication can improve incontinence due to medication.
- Diuretics – Diuretics are substances you consume that make you need to use the restroom. Examples of common diuretics include coffee, soda, and tea. Making changes to your diet and limiting or removing diuretics can help resolve incontinence issues.
- Medical conditions – Both temporary and ongoing medical conditions can cause bladder and bowel incontinence. Temporary problems like urinary tract infections and constipation can result in the involuntary loss of urine or stool. Incontinence can also be caused by more complex issues like prostate problems, stroke, muscular disorders, Parkinson’s disease, or diabetes. Incontinence caused by medical conditions can be managed or treated with the help of a doctor.
Getting Help for Incontinence
If you are experiencing problems starting a urine stream or emptying your bladder completely, the sudden and intense urge to use the restroom, waking several times throughout the night to use the restroom, recurrent urinary tract infections, or regular involuntary loss of your bladder and bowel, you should make an appointment with your doctor to get help. You do not have to continue to live with incontinence. Your doctor can offer treatment to resolve your incontinence and improve your quality of life.