Types of Incontinence: When You Must Go, but Don’t Know Why

Any woman who has experienced pregnancy, childbirth or menopause can probably tell a tale of urinary incontinence embarrassment. What they may not be able to tell you is what type of urinary incontinence they are experiencing.

But the results are the same, right? An urgent need to urinate, running for the bathroom, knowing that you probably aren’t going to make it 100 percent on time? There are several different types of urinary incontinence, each with its own set of causes and treatments. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis of the root of your incontinence issues so you can get the most effective treatment. Urogynecologists typically diagnose one of four common types of incontinence: urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence and stress incontinence.

As if urinary incontinence wasn’t bad enough, now there’s a mystery to solve. Here are some ways you can help determine the different types of incontinence and which diagnosis may apply to you.

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is also commonly known as overactive bladder. Urge incontinence causes the bladder to suddenly contract, causing the urge to urinate, often without warning. Common causes of urge incontinence include bladder or pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic floor weakness, nerve damage, kidney infections, urinary tract infections, pelvic mesh failure and obesity. Urge incontinence can be treated with medication that calms an overactive bladder, behavioral adjustments or with surgery.

Overflow Incontinence

When the bladder can’t empty completely, it fills up too quickly causing urgency and overflow incontinence. Women who feel a frequent, urgent need to urinate may have this relatively rare type of urinary incontinence which can be caused by medication side effects, a weakened pelvic floor, a blockage in the urinary system or nerve damage caused by diabetes, multiple sclerosis or other illnesses.

Symptoms can include feeling as though your bladder is full even after urination, a urine stream that stops and starts, difficulty urinating even when it feels urgent, waking in the night to urinate or even bed-wetting. Fortunately, overflow incontinence can be treated by a urogynecologist once the diagnosis is made.

Functional Incontinence

Functional incontinence is probably the least well-known of the types of incontinence. Functional incontinence isn’t so much about urinary system issues as it is about issues of physically getting to the bathroom when you feel the urge to urinate. This can be a result of conditions that cause mobility issues such as Parkinson’s disease, MS or musculoskeletal problems. Or a woman may be unable to communicate that she needs to use the bathroom because of cognitive issues such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some medications inhibit the body’s ability to sense urinary urgency until it is too late.

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress incontinence is probably the most common type of incontinence. It’s the one that makes women release a small amount of urine when they sneeze, cough, laugh or even exercise. Any stress or strain on the bladder can trigger an involuntary release of urine.

Stress incontinence is caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, ligaments and supporting tissues. A weak pelvic floor may not have the ability to tighten the muscles necessary to hold back the flow of urine. Changes in pressure put on the abdominal and pelvic muscles can result in stress incontinence.

Stress incontinence is commonly experienced by women who have gone through pregnancy and childbirth, which can strain and damage the supportive sling that holds the bladder, as well as weaken the pelvic floor. As women age, they can experience similar changes in their pelvic structures, resulting in stress incontinence.

Many women believe they just have to live with urinary incontinence as an inevitable part of aging, pregnancy or childbirth. But today there is a wide range of non-invasive, minimally invasive and surgical treatments that can dramatically improve a woman’s life by relieving the symptoms of urinary incontinence. An overactive bladder can be a symptom of another medical condition.

At Coyle Institute, we treat patients of all ages for urogynecological conditions including all types of incontinence. No woman should have to rearrange her life around the inconvenience and embarrassment of urinary incontinence. Schedule a consultation with us for an accurate diagnosis and a course of treatment that will alleviate your urinary incontinence symptoms.