Urinary incontinence is the loss of voluntary bladder control that can cause leakage of urine. It can be temporary or last for a long time.

There are four types of long term or permanent incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence—most common type. Leakage occurs when there is extra pressure on the bladder. Triggers may include laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise.
  • Urge incontinence—known as overactive bladder, a loss of bladder control following a strong urge to urinate. The bladder is unable to hold urine long enough to make it to a restroom.
  • Overflow incontinence—the bladder will not empty, so urine builds up and the bladder overflows.
  • Functional incontinence—there is normal bladder control, but the toilet can't be reached in time.

People may have just one or a combination of these types.

Incontinence has several different causes. The cause could also be unclear.

Temporary incontinence can be caused by:

Muscles Involved in Incontinence in Women
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  • Stress incontinence may be caused by:
    • Weakening of muscles that suspend the bladder
    • Weakening of muscles that control urine flow
    • Obesity
  • Urge incontinence may be caused or worsened by:
  • Overflow incontinence may be caused or worsened by:
    • A bladder that is blocked, such as by a scar in the urethra
    • Fecal impaction
    • Drugs such as antidepressants, hypnotics, antipsychotics, antihistamines, or calcium channel blockers
    • Vitamin B12 deficiency
    • Weak bladder muscles
    • Nerve damage due to:
      • Surgery
      • Diabetes
      • Spinal cord injuries
      • Other factors
  • Functional incontinence may be caused by:
    • Medical conditions that make it difficult to move like severe arthritis
    • Drugs that cause confusion or sedation

Some incontinence may be caused by a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal opening between the bladder and another nearby structure. The fistula can make it difficult for the bladder to act as it should.