• Causes of Urinary Incontinence

    There are several types of urinary incontinence and the causes vary depending on the type.

    Temporary Incontinence

    Temporary incontinence can be caused by:
    • Medicines
    • Constipation
    • Urinary infection
    • Restricted mobility
    • Muscle weakness
    • Unavailability of a restroom
    Many medicines can cause urinary problems. The effect is usually due to a common side effect of blood pressure pills, sleeping pills, indigestion remedies, and antidepressants. Talk with your doctor if you are suffering from incontinence and are taking any type of medicine.

    Nontemporary Incontinence

    More permanent incontinence may be classified as one of the following four types. Some people have a mixture of these types. In some cases, incontinence may have several different causes; sometimes the cause is unclear.
    Stress Incontinence
    Stress incontinence results when certain activities increase pressure on the bladder. Leaking can be triggered by laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise. This is the most common type of incontinence and may be caused by:
    • Weakening of the muscles that support the bladder
    • Weakening of the muscle sphincter that controls the flow of urine
    Urge Incontinence
    Urge incontinence is loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. You are unable to hold urine long enough to make it to the bathroom. This is also known as overactive bladder. It may be caused by:
    Overflow Incontinence
    Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder is full. The increased pressure generated by an over-full bladder exceeds the strength of the valve holding urine in. It may be caused by:
    • A bladder that is blocked, such as by a scar in the urethra (stricture)
    • Fecal impaction
    • Drugs (eg, antidepressants, hypnotics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, calcium channel blockers)
    • Vitamin B12 deficiency
    • Weak bladder muscles
    • Nerve damage due to:
      • Surgery
      • Diabetes
      • Spinal cord injuries
      • Other factors
    When nerve controls to your bladder are absent, as in spinal cord injury, the bladder will empty spontaneously when it reaches a certain volume. This is called a neurogenic bladder. If you have this condition, you will learn how to drain urine periodically or permanently with a catheter (tube) inserted directly into your bladder.
    Functional Incontinence
    Your bladder control may be perfectly normal, but any mental or physical condition that slows you down or confines you may result in inappropriate loss of urine. This is called functional incontinence.

    Other Causes of Incontinence

    Occasionally an abnormal channel (fistula) opens between the bladder and the outside world. It can be a birth defect, a result of injury, or—most commonly—a complication of surgery in that region. Fistulas cause continuous, uncontrolled urine dribbling and can be surgically repaired.


    Incontinence. American Urological Association Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=143 . Updated January 2011. Accessed September 16, 2012.

    Kasper D, Harrison T. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

    Urinary incontinence. American Academy of Family Physicians. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.html . Updated July 2012. Accessed September 16, 2012.

    Revision Information

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