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What is Urinary Incontinence

What is Urinary Incontinence
Razia Sanwari

Urinary incontinence is any leakage of urine that is not within your control and which may happen at any unsuitable time and in the most inappropriate place. It is quite a common bladder leakage problem and can often be a source of embarrassment leading to an impact on social life. However, incontinence is not a disease but a condition and the result of an underlying disorder.

The severity of urinary incontinence differs from person to person. While some may experience dribble from a cough, sneeze or even laughter there are others who suffer heavy urine leakage if unable to get to the toilet on time. Incontinence involves leaking urine and bladder leakage to frequent urination and total loss of bladder control.

Four types of urinary incontinence

There are four types of urinary incontinence – stress urinary incontinence, urgeurinary incontinence, overflow urinary incontinence and total urinary incontinence. And loss of bladder control in all the types is mostly for different reasons.

Stress incontinence of urine

Stress urinary incontinence, or SUI, is a problem that affects both men and women but is the most common type of urinary incontinence in women. It is characterized by dribbling urine when pressure is exerted on the urinary bladder as a result of a cough, sneeze, laugh or exercise. In women, the causes of stress incontinence are weak pelvic floor muscles or loss of support of the urethra as a result of childbirth and also physical changes due to menopause. Stress urinary incontinence in men may be due to prostate cancer treatment when the prostate gland has been removed.

What is urge urinary incontinence caused by

Urge urinary incontinence is characterized by the sudden and urgent need to urinate resulting in involuntary loss of urine without getting sufficient time to get to the toilet. This is due to an overactive bladder and caused by unrestrained contractions of the detrusor muscle. Urge urinary incontinence is often the result of injury to the central nervous system when nerve passages along the pathway from the bladder to the brain are damaged. Other reasons are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, urinary tract infection or bowel problems.

Overflow incontinence in males

More common in men than women, overflow urinary incontinence is leakage because of a bladder which is always full. The person produces only a weak stream of urine while trying to urinate, due to weak muscles that expel urine from the bladder or a blockage, and is, therefore, unable to empty out the bladder completely. So there is always more urine in the bladder than its holding capacity leading to overflow and frequent or constant urine leakage. The causes for this are many – back injury, damaged bladder, diabetes, obstructed airflow, enlarged prostate gland in men, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury or blocked urethra.

Total urinary incontinence

The fourth type of incontinence is total incontinence which is continuous leakage of urine following loss of urinary control. A primary cause for this is a neurogenic bladder. This is a neurological problem which does not allow the bladder to empty out properly. The reasons for total incontinence are multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and other nerve disorders. In women this is also the result of vesicovaginal fistula which is an abnormal link between the bladder and the vagina.

Other types of incontinence

Apart from the above mentioned incontinence types, there are also mixed incontinence, reflex incontinence, transient incontinence and functional incontinence. Mixed incontinence is a condition in which the person experiences both stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Functional incontinence is, as its name suggests, the person’s inability to pass urine the normal way because of physical or mental impairment. This is usually seen in older people.

Transient incontinence is a temporary condition experienced due to urinary tract infection, pregnancy, constipation, delirium or acute confusion. Reflex incontinence is characterized by involuntary leaking of urine following loss of bladder control due to damage to the nerves, spinal cord or brain.


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HPFY Razia Sanwari

Razia Sanwari

Razia Sanwari is a journalist by profession with more than 20 years of experience in the print media. With a Masters's in English Language and Literature, Razia began her career as a junior editor in a Kolkata English language daily ...

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