Urinary Incontinence Patient Fact Sheet

What is urinary incontinence?
People of all ages can have difficulty controlling their bladders, whether they are school children or grandparents, men or women, otherwise healthy individuals or those with some disability. Some people find that they often need to go to the toilet more frequently during the day and night while others may experience regular accidents. The National Association for Continence estimates that urinary incontinence affects approximately 25 million adults in America.

How can people tell if they have urinary incontinence?
Most people need to empty their bladders no more than seven times a day and only once a night. They can consciously control when and where this process takes place. People who have bladder problems are sometimes unable to control their bladders and release urine at the wrong time.

Is there more than one type of urinary incontinence?
There are several different types of urinary incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence. This is when the bladder leaks small amounts of urine as a result of stress. Confusingly the use of the word “stress” does not mean mental stress. It refers to the physical stress or pressure that sudden movements place on the muscles supporting the bladder. Such sudden movements include coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting or any sudden physical exercise.
  • Unstable bladder. There are several symptoms of an unstable bladder. Some people need to go to the toilet frequently—more than seven times during the day and more than once at night. Others experience a very strong urge to go to the toilet with no advance warning. Sometimes this urge is so strong that they are unable to delay passing urine long enough to reach the toilet.
  • Mixed incontinence. Individuals who suffer from both unstable bladder and stress incontinence are described as having mixed incontinence.
  • Overflow incontinence. This type occurs when the bladder does not empty properly. As a result, over time, large quantities of urine are stored, causing the bladder to overflow. This type of incontinence is more common in men and is often the result of an enlarged prostate blocking the bladder opening.