Types of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a health condition involving the involuntary leakage of urine. This can occur for a variety of reasons and, as a result, the optimal treatment for different causes differs considerably.

Urinary incontinence is classified into five different types, to simplify understanding of the condition and the best management of symptoms.

Stress Incontinence

This type refers to the leakage of urine due to sudden and unexpected pressure to the lower abdomen, the anatomical area of the body where the bladder resides.

Activities such as forceful coughing and laughing commonly cause some urine to be leaked unintentionally. Additionally, straining to lift heavy objects or during high-intensity exercise can have a similar effect.

Stress incontinence is more common in women, which may be associated with the fact that it is related to circumstances that lead to weakening of the pelvic muscles, such as childbirth. Surgery in the pelvic region can also weaken these muscles and result in incontinence.

Urge Incontinence

This type of incontinence is characterized by a sudden need to urinate that often does not allow the individual enough time to reach a toilet. The warning period may be from a few minutes to a few seconds, from which point the individual must find a bathroom or they will be unable to control the release of urine.

Common causes of urge incontinence are urinary tract infection and overactive bladder. Both of these conditions increase the frequency an individual needs to urinate and often does not allow much time to reach a bathroom. Elderly people are also more likely to be affected by this type of incontinence, likely due to other underlying health conditions.

If there is a clear cause of the symptoms, such as a urinary tract infection, it is recommended that the cause should be treated primarily, which will then lead to an improvement in incontinence symptoms.

Overflow Incontinence

When the bladder becomes overfilled it sometimes leads to some urine being leaked involuntarily due to lack of space in the bladder, which is known as overflow incontinence.

This often occurs when individuals have difficulty voiding their bladder completely when urinating. A common example of this are men who are affected by enlarged prostate and cannot pass urine as easily as usual due to the obstruction by the prostate gland. It is likely for this reason that more men are affected by overflow incontinence than other types.

Functional Incontinence

Rather than a direct problem that relates to the urinary system, functional incontinence usually occurs due to another health condition that inhibits normal urination.

A prime example of this is arthritis, which affects the mobility of the individual and may lead to the inability of a patient to reach a toilet in time when they need to urinate.

As there are no issues with the bladder or physiological process to urinate, this type of incontinence should be managed from the causative factor. If mobility is an issue, medication may help to improve this or an occupation therapist could devise a plan to help improve physical mobility around the house.

Mixed (Complex) Incontinence

When there is more than one type of urinary incontinence affecting an individual it is described as mixed incontinence, also known as complex incontinence.

As there are usually multiple causes that lead to this type of incontinence, there are several issues that need to be considered and addressed. It is common for patients with this type to require several interventions to regain control of voluntary urination.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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