Types of Incontinence

Incontinence is the inability to control either urine or fecal elimination. Urinary incontinence affects about 25 million Americans -- 75 to 85% are women. It happens when you lose urine by accident. There are several different types of urinary incontinence.

  • Stress Incontinence: Stress incontinence is a mechanical problem caused by weak muscles in the pelvic floor. It occurs when there is an increase in abdominal pressure -- such as when you exercise, laugh, sneeze, or cough. Urine leaks due to weakened pelvic floor muscles and tissues.

Causes of stress incontinence include pregnancy and childbirth, which cause stretching and weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. Other factors may also increase the risk for stress incontinence, such as being overweight, obesity, prostate surgery, and certain medications.

  • Urge Incontinence: Urge incontinence is often referred to as overactive bladder: You have an urgent need to go to the bathroom and may not get there in time, leaking urine. This is due to the bladder contracting at inappropriate times. Causes of overactive bladder include damage to the bladder's nerves, damage to the nervous system, and damage to muscles.

Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and stroke can affect nerves, leading to urge incontinence. Other conditions such as bladder infections, bladder stones, and use of certain medications can also contribute to symptoms.

  • Mixed urinary incontinence: Some women have both of the above types of urinary incontinence -- stress and urge.
  • Overflow Incontinence: You may have overflow incontinence if you are not able to empty your bladder appropriately. As a result, you may have leakage once the bladder is already full. This is more common in men with symptoms of frequent dribbling of urine.

Causes of overflow incontinence include weak bladder muscles, blockage of the urethra, such as by prostate enlargement, medical conditions such as tumors causing obstruction of urine flow, and constipation.

  • Functional Incontinence: With functional incontinence, mobility challenges are presently preventing you from getting to the bathroom in time. This is the result of physical problems such as arthritis, or cognitive problems such as dementia prevent you from getting to the bathroom in time.
  • Bowel incontinence: Bowel incontinence is the inability to contain or "hold" a bowel movement. It can be caused by constipation, diarrhea, and muscle or nerve damage. For some people, fecal incontinence is a relatively minor problem, limited to the occasional soiling of their underwear. For others, the condition can be devastating due to a complete lack of bowel control.

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